Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Five Proofs on CrossExamined


Recently I was interviewed by Frank Turek for his show CrossExamined on the subject of my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  You can now listen to the podcast at the CrossExamined website.

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, Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, and many others.  Further media appearances forthcoming.  Stay tuned.

130 comments:

  1. Frank Turek is terrific and he really loves Ed Feser - nice to have some harmony after the David Bentley Hart stuff.

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  2. Reposting this because it's on-topic:


    1) Does the Augustinian argument from eternal truths depend on the immateriality of the intellect in order to work? Or could we say for the sake of argument that the intellect was material and the argument could still go through?


    I am asking because it seems to me that if we want to say that universals, propositions and abstract objects subsist in an eternal intellect because of the nature of these abstract things and their intentionality, it seems we also have to argue for the immteriality of human intellects as well.


    2) What about the panpsychist response to the Augustinian argument to the effect that the World-Soul of all physical reality grounds universals? Such a response was suggested by OA Police.


    3) Does the argument from logical possibility / grounding of possibility depend on realism about universals and abstract objects? Or can we for sake of argument accept nominanalism about universals and abstract objects and the argument from possibility would still get us to God? That is, are the Augustinian and Possibility argument related deeply such that they depend on each other in a way, or are they truly independent of each other?


    It also seems to me that the argument from grounding of logical possibility does not depend on PSR and PC. Which means we could accept for the sake of argument that both principles are false, yet still get to God using that argument.

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  3. 1. No. Why should it? The critic might sight the difficulty in explaining how a material intellect could interact with abstract objects as a reason for rejecting abstract objects (Benacerraf's problem), but that has nothing to do with the argument and has been done to death in literature as well.

    3. No, it just requires realism about modality. There are plenty of powers theorists who are trope nominalists. If one accepts the powers theory needed to make the argument fly one is probably committed to something like the weakened Gale-Pruss PSR (every contingent object could possibly be brought into being by another - the powers theory of course claiming that a being is possible if there is another being with the power of bringing that first into existence whether directly or indirectly).

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    1. 1) Thanks for answering. If this is true what you say, then I guess this only adds to the strength of the argument.

      But when you say " but that has nothing to do with the argument" , are you suggesting that the Augustinian argument is somehow disconnected from the question of whether or not abstract objects even exist?

      Also, when you say that it "has been done to death in literature", are you refering to the Benacerraf problem?



      3) Ah, okay.


      But I'm not really that sure if powers theory was what I had in mind, at least directly.


      The argument that I encountered was based directly on logic. Namely, logical possibilities flow from the laws of logic, and logic as such acts as an inhibitor of what is possible and what is not possible.


      And since it is incoherent to speak of possibilities that are not grounded in any reality ( logic is a reality here), there must therefore be a logically necessary reality from which all logical possibilities flow.


      I also wonder how this could be applied to brute facts and uncaused things and events. Suppose Hume is right that a brick could pop into being uncaused.


      Since there is no contradiction involved in this, it is logically possible that such a thing can occur. But logical possibility is based on the laws of logic, which is the highest reality.


      In Aristotelian language this would be akin to a potentiality actualising itself. In order for such a thing to be possible, we would first have to have a potentiality that can actualise itself, and all potentialities exist only insofar as there is an actuality that grounds them.


      It is kind of like positing that a cup of coffee could throw itself to the ground uncaused. While this is a potentiality that could actualise itself, it in no way undermines the fact that I myself am capable of actualising this possibility by throwing it with my own hands.


      In fact, it seems that the very possibility of uncaused actions depend on something that could actually cause them.

      But even if that weren't the case, uncaused events would still depend on the laws of logic because they are logically possible, and as such depend on their sheer possibility on a higher logical reality.


      And finally, I don't understand exactly how the Gale-Pruss PSR is a type of PSR. For it seems more like another way to phrase the proposition entailed by powers theory.


      And furthermore, it looks like if we reject the Gale-Pruss PSR and say that not every contingent thing could be brought into being by another, we would still be doing this because we believe it doesn't entail a contradiction.

      But this means it is a logical possibility , and logical possibilities depend on logic in order to be possible, which means the argument could still go through.

      Unless, of course, the Gale-Pruss PSR also entails that it is logically necessary that a contingent thing could be caused by another.

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    2. How would a "world soul" be sufficient to ground all abstract and necessary truths? That would require the world to be necessary; it would, in other words, be some kind of spinozistic pantheism and not atheism.

      Even then, however, I don't think it would work because I don't see how a "world soul" would really make any sense at all. It obviously would have to be an intellect in much the same analogous way as we have intellect, and 1) the world is too discontinuous to have an intellect, 2) why infer a multiplicity of world-intellects instead of just one divine intellect?

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    3. @Miguel,



      The world-soul refered to here is a single soul of the entire universe. It is not plural but rather singular.


      And as for the world being too discontinous, remember that it is under the assumption of panpsychism (and specifically under the assumption that intellect is automatically contained with that consciousness to some degree as well) that this objection is working with. If panpsychism were false, then the objection would fail.


      But as regarding this making the world-soul necessary and leading to pantheism, I agree. It is another form of pantheism rather than atheism or naturalism.

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  4. 2) I'm not too sure on the concept of a "World-Soul" is but it would seem to be a neccessary being in that neccessary propositions (logic and/or maths) need to be grounded. That would seem to make the choice between theism and pantheism.

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  5. Hi, you folks who post here seem familiar to each other. I have not posted here before but I have read and listened to Feser a bit and I am confused by some things he and others seem to assume. All of the core arguments for god Feser attributes to Aristotle seem to depend on two assumptions. First, that there is an obvious or at least compelling reason to believe that existence requires a continual or initial instance of actualization or creation as opposed to the view that existence has always been and requires no such continual creation or actualization. Second, that if we assume this act or instance of actualization is necessary, it is better accounted for by god than a yet to be found fundamental element or principle of physics that can self-actualize as god apparently can.

    I'm an agnostic and I'm not out to prove anyone wrong. I’m looking for good arguments that give better insights into the nature of existence. I’m just researching and would be delighted to get a compelling answer to my questions and find that there is a basis for the arguments Feser makes that does not require these assumptions, or that these assumptions are better founded than I believe, but it would of course have to be convincing to sway me.

    1.) The first assumption that there was once nothingness seems very much in question. Existence, whatever its nature, is ever before us. We and our very conversation or correspondence, whatever its true nature and however illusory our understanding of it, are not in question of being. However, the idea that at one point there was nothingness or that nothingness would envelop all existence were it not for god, or anything else, continually acting is very much in question. There seems to be no evidence that there was once nothingness and there seems to be no evidence that existence requires continual actualizing by something other than itself.

    2.) Further, even if we were to concede that these were necessary, why would god be a better explanation for that which caused something from nothing or that which maintains existence continually than an as of yet unknown element or principle of physics? We have experienced the wide range of phenomena that are explained and predicted by the principles of physics so it is a mere extension of our experience to propose that there is a principle of physics that would explain why existence always existed or is self-actualizing, but as we have no experience with a god it seems a far less reasonable position to claim that god is a better explanation than an as of yet unknown element or principle of physics.
    If anyone is kind enough to answer thank you in advance. Regards, J. Wilson

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    1. Just a few answers here. You raise two points; let me answer in order.

      You say Feser and we proponents of these arguments assume that "there is an obvious or at least compelling reason to believe that existence requires a continual or initial instance of actualization or creation as opposed to the view that existence has always been and requires no such continual creation or actualization.

      First, we do not "assume". But I'll get back to that. Please first note we do not claim "existence requires an initial instance of actualization". Rather, that a potential, or any act limited by potential, requires actualization in order to be actual. And this is always true of it given it is always a composite rather than something that has actuality proper to itself.

      The point is that the act/potency distinction shows us why it is false to assume that a composite of act/potency (e.g. any material being) just exists of itself. We don't assume this; rather we argue for it based on the very distinction of act and potency.

      You say: "Second, that if we assume this act or instance of actualization is necessary, it is better accounted for by god than a yet to be found fundamental element or principle of physics that can self-actualize as god apparently can.

      Here I would say that no one (not Ed nor any other proponent of the argument) "assume" God better accounts for the actuality of things rather than a yet to be found fundamental element. Rather, the very conclusion of the act/potency argument just is that whatever actualizes others without itself being actuality is pure actuality, and thus eternal, immaterial, an intellect etc. And this we call 'God'.

      Are these initial answers at all relevant to your questions?

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    2. @J.Wilson,



      1) Well actually, the arguments make no assumption that there ever was once nothingness, because the arguments are not concerned with proving that there was a beginning of reality at all.

      They are concerned with why and how things can exist right now.

      And it also seems to me that your language confuses the meaning of nothingness because you refer to it as if it were a certain thing such as in your statement that you don't think nothingness ever enveloped all of existence.


      Nothingess isn't a thing, rather it is simply the absence of something, what would happen if all were to cease existing.

      So we aren't saying that nothingness ever was a state in the past, even though it is possible that the universe could have never existed in the first place.


      2)As for the idea that the existence of things doesn't need to be actualised constantly, this would be what we call the Existential Inertia thesis. This is refuted by the analytic observations of the arguments, such as the fact things don't need to exist and could have failed to exist.


      The idea that things need to be actualised in order to exist is what I will term the Existential Helplessness thesis. This thesis is proven by certain observations about the world. Take for example water which can be brought into being by combining hydorgen and oxygen but can also be destroyed by electrolysis where the two elements seperate.


      This shows that water can cease existing by outside actors acting on it. Now if water had existence as a proper property such that it need not have anything to actualise it, it shouldn't be able to cease existing. It shouldn't be the sort of thing that can be brought into existence by external factors as well as cease to exist by external factors.


      What this means is that the existence of water right now is not explained by the water itself. The water doesn't have any existential inertia that just makes it keep existing after it is brought into existence.


      So there is something that keeps the water in being.


      3) As for the question of why it must be God doing the actualising instead of an unknown element or principle of physics, the best thing would be to forget about the word God and instead focus on the conclusion of the argument.


      Water is kept in existence by something. If that thing were something like the objects of reality such that it could possibly not exist, there would need to be an explanation as to why that thing exists right now as well.


      Now this means that the only way to get to the solution of what possibly has the ability to keep things in existence is to conclude that there is something that cannot ever fail to exist and is therefore necessary.


      Using the language of Aristotle it would be something that is pure actuality. Using the language of Aquinas it would that whose essence just is existence, or rather existence itself. Using the language of Plotinus it would be absolutely simple and non-composite etc etc.

      Now an unknown element would be something that has an essence (it's an element) and has existence, which means there is something that composes these two things together. Which would be Existence itself, or rather God because that is what God is.


      And physics can't help here either because physics studies how matter behaves and what it is made out of. The source of all reality and that which keeps everything in existence cannot be a material thing, and thus physics cannot apply to it.


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    3. Jason and JoeD explained it pretty well. I would just add that it is a mistake to say that God is "self actualized." That would imply that God has some potentiality that requires actualization by something, even if that something is God Himself. The argument is that God needs no actualization at all because He just is pure actuality. He has no potentiality that needs actualizing by anything, even Himself.

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    4. @J. Wilson You have had some good responses. I will just add a few points. In addition to the attributes of simplicity, immateriality, omnipotence, etc, God is given intellect and will. Why is this? Well in addition to the Augustinian Argument, Aquinas' Fifth Way explains this. It basically says that there is no reason for the consistent teleology of our universe, so this must be explained by an intelligent being willing the laws of gravity into existence. For example, why does gravity always and everywhere attract bodies with a force proportional to their masses divided by distance squared? People say that it is just a "law" of physics. But what causes or maintains this law? Well people may respond that it is a specific case of general relativity. Okay, but what causes that? A Theory of Everything may be proposed (such as M-theory, etc). Okay, but why is it that the equations of M-theory (if that were the true TOE for argument's sake) describe reality as opposed to some other set of equations? It is completely arbitrary (a brute fact) unless you have a being who is constantly willing these conditions into existence. Of course this requires belief in some form of Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), but that is a very well grounded philosophical principle that Dr. Feser has argued for extensively. Denying PSR will lead to some pretty disasterous consequences for the philosopher and the scientist.

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    5. I have always wondered what the sufficient reason is why God created this universe with these laws rather than a universe with different laws.
      I am not convinced that denying PSR would have all those disastrous consequences. from a scientific point of view, what difference would it make if we discovered that there was some inexplicable thing compared to if we discovered that miracles sometimes happen?

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    6. I have always wondered what the sufficient reason is why God created this universe with these laws rather than a universe with different laws.

      It is a sufficient reason for God to have created this universe, that it is good.

      There does not need to be a sufficient reason for God NOT to have created a different universe, because it does not exist. Only what exists must have a sufficient reason under PSR. The "other universe" has only a logical kind of "being," in that logically speaking, God could have created that other universe. PSR does not require an explanation of that other universe NOT existing.

      Otherwise, God would be not free to create, he would be compelled to create this specific world.

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    7. @Tony,


      I get your point about the version of PSR that is applied to all existing things, not to non-existing things.


      But still, curiosity may still prompt us to ask why God decided to create this universe rather than another?


      Some would answer that because of divine simplicity, God is His Will, and he is self-explanatory and thus the reason for creating this world rather than another is because God is God.


      However, an objection may be fired that this would entail that God would be a different God if he had chosen to create another world rather than this one.


      The reply to it would be that it would still be the same God but with a different Will or a different object for His Will, but that seems to introduce composition into God.


      Another way to answer the question would be to point out how all intellects by nature follow the PSR in their behaviour, and that because God is Reason itself, we can know for certain that there is a reason why God created this world rather than another, it's just not something that we will be able to find out in this life, or ever at all.


      2) Also, when we say that God is free, what we mean by that is NOT that God deliberated over alternative possibilities before chosing one to actualise, but simply that there was nothing either in God or outside of Him to compel Him to chose to create.


      In a similar way, freedom for humans does not actually mean having the capacity to chose differently than one actually chose among alternatives, but simply that one is the cause of one's actions, even if one was literally unable to chose differently than one could or has in fact chosen.


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    8. @Walter Van den Acker,


      If we were to allow the existence of actual brute facts in the universe, then this would open up the possibility that at bottom all of our scientific efforts and explanations ultimately rest on nonsense.


      Because if there is a brute fact amongst the things of the universe, then it stands to reason that we would eventually, after cataloging data about the world, run into it. And what's even more important is how this brute fact would be tied into other facts which rest on it and would thus undermine those facts, and those undermined facts would be in turn tied to other facts and the entire set of facts about the world would be undermined.


      There is simply no such thing as a fact isolated from other facts, and the ripple effect from even one brute fact would be disastrous for science, because all of it would be based on nonsense.


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    9. @JoeD, although the Five Ways don't seek to prove that reality had a beginning, doesn't the Third Way appeal to the notion of nothingness? It says, "if all things are able not to exist, at some time there was nothing in reality." And of course Thomas teaches elsewhere that creation is bringing things into existence with no preexisting material, and that when no entity is presupposed, "nothing" (nihil) is the same as "no entity," so that creation of all of existence is from "non entity," which is "nothing" (ST 1a 45 a. 1). Is something like this what J. Wilson may have meant?

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    10. @Tony

      "Otherwise, God would be not free to create, he would be compelled to create this specific world."

      Well, isn't that a logical consequence of God's simplicity and immutability?


      @JoeD

      "In a similar way, freedom for humans does not actually mean having the capacity to chose differently than one actually chose among alternatives, but simply that one is the cause of one's actions, even if one was literally unable to chose differently than one could or has in fact chosen."
      This seems to be a compatibilist position and it would in my opinion undermine one of the foundations of Catholic faith, namely that every person is morally responsible for his or her choices.

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    11. @Walter,


      Actually, this view comes with a useful analogy, namely of aliens deciding to control your mind with a ray in order to vote for Trump and ensure votes for him.


      In this situation, if you decide to vote for Trump for whatever reason, the aliens don't control your mind and you actually chose Trump of your own accord.


      However, if you decide to not vote or to vote for Clinton, the aliens use the ray to force you to vote for Trump, thereby your action is not free.


      But what this shows is that even if one isn't actually able to do otherwise and chose an alternative action, one is still free in chosing the action one has chosen that isn't being forced on you.



      So this doesn't in fact remove responsibility, but rather shows how one is still the intentional cause of one's actions.


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    12. @JoeD

      I don't see why a brute fact would undermine other facts. A brute fact says nothing about other facts following from it. There are lots of things science (or philosophy or even theology) doesn't know (yet), but that doesn't mean every scientific finding is wrong or worthless.
      Suppose we were to find out that God had no reason to prefer our universe X over another universe Y, would that also undermine whatever else we found out about the world?
      And if God has libertarian free will, the above scenario seems possible, although I am not sure whether LFW is compatible with Thomism.

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    13. There was a thread on this at the classical theism forum

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    14. @Joe

      What you are describing is the famous Frankfurt argument and it isn't analogous to a fully determined universe, becasue in a fully determined universe there is no "if you decide to do Y". If X is determined, you decide X, period. Your "choice" is completely determined by your nature plus some external factors.

      Maybe another analogy will clarify things. If I were to design an android with a programme to deliberate in a deterministic way, leading to him murder Steve, then the android is the intentional cause of the murder, but how is he responsible for his actions?

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    15. @Walter,


      1) Yes, it isn't about a fully determined universe, because your choice is still caused by you. Just because you are unable to chose alternatives, doesn't mean you cannot freely chose that one choice you actually can chose.


      2) Once again, if a brute fact were to be allowed in the natural world, it would obviously be connected to other facts precisely BECAUSE we can discover it. Once again, there is no such thing as a fact sitting in isolation of other facts. Things, at least in science, are interconnected and form an interlocking web of facts. A brute fact would undermine those around it that it is connected to. To deny a brute fact is connected to any other facts is to deny that it even has a place in the world to begin with.


      Say that the stability of the galaxies is not due to dark matter but is just a brute fact. This would undermine the our whole effort of finding out the system of relations within the universe, and since the stability of galaxies is connected with all sorts of other facts such as the formation of stars etc, we would have a whole system being undermined.

      This analogy may not be perfectly illustrative however, but the point still stands.

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    16. @Joe

      1) In your scenario "freely" doesn't mean freely in a libertarian sense.

      2) Under thomism the stability of the galaxies is due to God sustaining them throughout their existence. Does that undermine our whole effort of finding out the system of relations within the universe?

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    17. 1) Well, I guess that just means a rejection of the Libertarian conception fo free will. Not that it means we would have to accept Compatibilism or Determinism, since there are theories of free will (such as the Thomist one) that are "in between" libertarianism and compatibilism, so to speak.


      2)When I say stability I am refering not to the existence of the galaxies, but rather how the matter sticks together despite there seemingly not being anything that could provide enough force for it to happen. In other words, the galaxies should simply fall apart and the matter be released into empty space.

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    18. 1) Maybe the Thomist theories are in between libertarianism and compatibilism, but your theory is 100 % compatibilism.

      2) Since galaxies don't seem to fall apart it's obvious that there is something that makes them stick together, so that can't be a brute fact. What could be a brute fact is why something exists in the first place. On the other hand, it could be necessary that something exists. But that would not make any difference as far as science is concerned.

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    19. 1) How exactly? Is the idea that free will is primarily about being your own cause for your actions (which you are in the Trump case above because you are actually freely choosing and causing your own action there) compatibilist?


      As for Thomist views of freedom, an important way to explain the Thomist view of freedom is with determination towards truth.


      The intellect for example is unable to disagree with the proposition that 2+2=4 because it is certainly true and the intellect is thus in a certain way "determined" towards that truth. However, there are other things the intellect does not have such propositional certainty about, which means it is not determined to it. Which means there is some freedom when it comes to making a decision about it.



      2) Since the universe doesn't cease existing it is obvious that there is something that makes it keep existing.

      Otherwise nothing would exist.


      Consider the fact that a unicorn doesn't exist because there is nothing that keeps it in being and no reason obtains for it to be. If the same were true of the universe, the universe would not exist.

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    20. Joe

      "How exactly? Is the idea that free will is primarily about being your own cause for your actions (which you are in the Trump case above because you are actually freely choosing and causing your own action there) compatibilist?"

      Combined with the kind of full-blown determinism you propose, it is.

      2) I don't see any reason why something could cease existing. Something ceasing to exist (I mean really ceasing, not simply changing) strikes me as equally absurd as something coming from nothing.

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    21. 1) Wait, are you saying that the description of Thomism and the idea of various levels of determination of the will that I explained above is a type of...determinism?


      2) Are you denying that it is possible that something could cease existing right now?


      The arguments used by Feser et al. show how things cannot exist by themselves. If they are to exist there must be something outside of them that keeps them in being. What this means is that if there weren't a thing out there that keeps things in being, things would stop existing.

      Otherwise, your idea about how the ceasing to exist of something is absurd seems like an appeal to Existential Inertia.



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    22. First of all thank you for your consideration of my questions. One of the issues I come against as I read your answers is that you seem to be using a bit of terminology highly specific to theological debate and I have a more general and limited knowledge of philosophy. But I’m looking up terms as I go and you folks clearly are using well established terms. (I apologize for the term ‘assume’ I meant ‘claim’. Some of you seem to have taken it as a pejorative; it was not. We all make assumptions. )

      Jason: To answer your last question first, your answers are certainly relevant to my questions, it’s just that I’m not sure I fully understand the first one. To your reply for my first question: I was aware that it is not essential to Feser’s arguments that existence has a start date, but it did seem necessary that something is acting to maintain existence continually. I do not see how this is founded. When I look up the act/potency distinction (‘Aristotle's Metaphysics’ on stanford.edu ) what I get is: “The matter of a substance is the stuff it is composed of; the form is the way that stuff is put together so that the whole it constitutes can perform its characteristic functions” The analogy given is a piece of wood (potential) a bowl or chair made of it (actual). My issue is that Fesser seems to be claiming that elements of the universe just are a given way without giving the why. I can’t even be sure what is being claimed here, let alone how it supports the necessity of a continual causation/ordering of existence. Is the claim that the objects of existence require continual causation or continual ordering ? If so, what reason is there for us to accept that all would become non-existence or disorder without some continual causation or continual ordering? How do we establish that existence or its objects require something outside themselves to maintain or actualize themselves? You write: “The point is that the act/potency distinction shows us why it is false to assume that a composite of act/potency (e.g. any material being) just exists of itself.” How does the act/potency distinction show us this? Remember I’m new to this. To your reply for my second question: You write: “the very conclusion of the act/potency argument just is that whatever actualizes others without itself being actuality is pure actuality, and thus eternal, immaterial, an intellect etc. And this we call 'God'.” This seems to pantheist rather than theist. Have I mistaken you? Eternal yes, but why would it have to be “immaterial” or “an intellect”? What I’m asking at bottom in the second question is if this argument Feser makes can be explained as well or better by an as-of-yet undiscovered self-actualizing principle of physics why should we considered it an argument for god?

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    23. JoeD: By nothingness I simply meant non-existence. This seemed clear but I guess you folks are used to more precise language. That is good. To your second point: Your argument is well thought out, but I would point out that your example is about a molecule—something made of other things—not a foundational entity. For instance many physicists now believe all is made of space-time interacting with itself. Whether this is correct or is mistaken and there is something more fundamental, at this bottom level of physics is where one would expect there to be self-actualizing entities or entities that are pure actuality. And even with our current understanding, which is far from complete, in models of physics space-time merely changes its properties it does not come in and out of existence. To your third point: “Water is kept in existence by something. If that thing were something like the objects of reality such that it could possibly not exist, there would need to be an explanation as to why that thing exists right now as well.” For the reasons I give above there seems to be a real problem with the claim that there are fundamental objects / entities that could ‘possibly not exist’ or ‘could fail to exist’. You also write: “The source of all reality and that which keeps everything in existence cannot be a material thing” But why not? If all entities were made of self-actualizing space-time interacting with itself it would be a non-composite as well. You clearly put a lot of thought into your answers and I hope my reply does not come off as dismissive. You have certainly made the points Feser and others make clearer to me with your examples. I hope my questions are clearer to you. If there is something I’m missing please let me know.

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    24. Joe

      1) No I am saying that your quote below is not only a type of determinism, but that it is full-blown determinism.

      "In a similar way, freedom for humans does not actually mean having the capacity to chose differently than one actually chose among alternatives, but simply that one is the cause of one's actions, even if one was literally unable to chose differently than one could or has in fact chosen."

      Not having the capacity to choose differently entails that the "choice" is determined, not because of some alien device that would interfere once you instantiate the "wrong" choice but by the sheer impossibility of your mind to reach any other conclusion. The alien device is useless because person p is determined to vote for Trump and person s is determined to vote for Clinton.

      2) Yes, because I am also denying that something could pop into existence right now. I amp aware of the arguments by Feser et al. but I don't agree with them. For starters, I don't think essence and existence are distinct things. I think it is fairly obvious that there are no non-existing things.

      As for Existential Inertia, I don't know exactly what is meant by that. Maybe my view does entail it, I really don't know. I simply find the idea of something completely ceasing to exist as absurd as something popping into existence. That is, I can't prove either of them impossible, but I nevertheless see no reason to believe in them.

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    25. @Jason,



      1) It may not be about a foundational entity, but the argument still holds considering we are talking about an object that doesn't exist on it's own.


      We could just as well rephrase the example by showing how the connection between the molecules can be destroyed. Thus the connection does not exist by necessity and something outside of it needs to keep it that way.


      2) As for the idea that all is made out of space-time interacting with itself, the key question that needs to be asked is "Does space-time exist?".


      If space time is a thing that exists, then it is possible that it, just like water, could fail to exist, and thus it does not explain it's own continued existence.


      Unless of course one takes space and time to be seperate from material objects, or rather dependent on them (space would on this view be just an extension of matter and would not exist without matter, time would thus be a measure of change and would not exist without matter). This view is actually held by Dr. Feser and others and is called the Aristotelian view.


      3) As for us being able to find purely actual entities at the bottom level of physics; once again, considering that physics studies the material and what is connected with the material, it cannot find purely actual things because such a thing would be immaterial.


      And I would also just add that there cannot be more than one purely actual entitiy. And also that the word entity is inadequate for describing what this would be.


      4) As for space-time not coming in and out of existence, this doesn't in fact matter.


      The universe could have existed for eternity, and could even be infinite in size and with infinitely many things in it, yet these arguments would still end up proving what we call God.


      Unless, of course, you are claiming that space-time is something that could not have failed to exist.


      5) The reason why the source of reality cannot be a material thing is because material things are composed of essence and existence.

      By defintion, if you can ask "What is it?" and "Does it exist?" seperately, then it is not purely actual and non-composite.

      Furthermore, there seems to be a misunderstanding as to the term self-acutalising. Only what is not composed of essence and existence can be purely actual. And it's not even self-actualising per se, but rather without anything about it to be actualised.


      Now, you can clearly ask what space-time is and if it does exist, which means it is not purely actual. You can also say that space-time changes it's properties, which means something about space-time changes, which is impossible if it were purely actual.


      And in fact, if you can define it in any category whatsoever, it is not purely actual. That which is purely actual is also Existence itself, and is beyond any genus.


      And what is most important is the fact that being immaterial does not mean one is purely actual.


      Angels, for example, are by definition immaterial intellects. Yet they are composed of essence and existence because you can ask what they are and if they are.


      So even immaterial things are not purely actual, but only that which is Existence itself. In fact, you might say that Existence itself does not have an essence at all.


      You can ask the question of what it is and if it is about a wide variety of things, material and immaterial, which goes to show the extraordinary transcendence of the purely actual and non-composite, that which we call God.

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    26. @Walter,


      1) At first my answer would be to point out how one is not actually determined in the choice one is making. One is freely choosing a thing, even though one is unable to chose another.


      But on second thought, if we are going to strictly define freedom as being able to chose among alternatives and being able to chose otherwise, you may have a point here that this seems like a form of determinism.


      2) So you are rejecting the various descriptions pointing out how things do not exist of themselves and are helpless existentially?


      And as for your denial of the essence/existence distinction, are you thinking that the distinction implies that there are non-existing things out there?


      How so? Do you mean to deny that abstract objects or essences as ideas do not exist? No one ever claimed that they exist but rather that they subsist. Abstract objects don't technically have existence, but it is fairly obvious that they are "Out there" and independent of the material world.


      Existential inertia is basically the thesis that things, once they are in existence, do not require anything outside of them to keep existing but rather exist on their own, almost like a type of intertia.

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    27. Joe

      1) I think it is a form of determinism.

      2) Yes, I do reject that. Things by definition exist, otherwise they wouldn't be things.

      Of course essences as ideas do exist. A unicorn as an idea exists as a mental image in someone's mind. I am not talking about abstract objects. That woukld lead us to far here.

      As for Existential Inertia, if that's what it means, then, yes I do believe in EI, for the same reason I believe that ex nihilo nihil fit.

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    28. 2) So the view you hold is that existence is included in the nature of a thing as part of a definition.


      The trouble with that is that we don't know if a certain thing exists unless we look for it. It's not by definition. We study the universe by looking at it, and we find out galaxies by seeing what they are. We cannot know if galaxies exist by simply defining them.

      We cannot know if string theory is true by simply knowing what strings are, we must actually look and see if such things are out there.

      In the same way, it seems obvious that we could say that unicorns are things, just not existent ones. A unicorn is certainly possible as a thing, there may be evolutionary causal chains that could have led to it's existence, and there may be other things that could cause them.


      But you would then say that the definition of a thing is something which exists, so you would certanily say that unicorns aren't things.


      Yet what is also interesting is how existence is supposed to be a property that everything possesses, which would end up with us having to say that all definitions contain one element in common.

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    29. JoeD:

      Space-time as described in physics is one thing not two. It may even be the only thing. Your arguments seems to try to separate these. Also, understand you are using a Newtonian view of physics: matter, space, and time that are separate. Time that is a independent moving quality, rather than in a post-Special relativity view (that has been highly consistent with experiment) in which time like space is just a position or point of view like position is.('B Theory' Time)Einstein’s theory of time dilation has been tested with atomic clocks. If one man leaves earth and travels at near the speed of light long enough only weeks will have passed for him but years will have passed for others on earth. The reverse would be true if Earth’s solar system as a whole traveled at speed of light in relation to a stationary space station. If the two meet after, for those on the space station visiting earth would be like traveling back in time. The ‘now’ and ‘month ago’ ect would be different for these different people. The theory even shows there is no such thing as simultaneity—two people can look at same two events and one sees them as happening at same time and the other does not and they both correct for their relative point of view.
      The implication is that time is not moving rather our point of view is moving through it.
      Imagine you are on a train and looking at the landscape as it changes you no longer see the mountains. What you passed did not disappear the mountains are still there, what is in front of you is there even though you don’t yet see it. These are features of the landscape. Same is true in B theory time. You experience one point of view in time and space in the now but the rest still exists. There is no privileged point of time—it’s just our point of view. “Now” is no different than “here”.


      You write "the key question that needs to be asked is "Does space-time exist?".
      If space time is a thing that exists, then it is possible that it, just like water, could fail to exist, and thus it does not explain it's own continued existence." Space-time is a concept in physics, even if it turns out to be a bad description of what actually makes up our experienced world or its underlying nature, it is referring to something that we experience directly or indirectly. We can doubt the existence of a physics term, but if we are going to doubt the underlying reality of what we experience how much more should we doubt that which we dont experience.(God) Again Im agnostic and open to proofs for god but this does not seem to be a good one.

      To your later point: people ask of god all the time: "What is it?" and "Does it exist?" separately, so by your definition god is not purely actual and non-composite? Why can we ask these both of space-time and not of god? How could things we have experience of, however indirectly, be something that could have failed to exist but god could not?

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    30. @J. Wilson

      First, to say there is something that is Pure Actuality, eternal, immaterial, intellect etc. is not pantheism. Pantheism claims God = world; world=God. But the conclusion of our arguments leads us to something distinct from the world.

      You ask, "How do we establish that existence or its objects require something outside themselves to maintain or actualize themselves?

      One way is this. A compound of actuality and potentiality (or more specifically, matter) has the potential to exist in various different modes or forms. This potential rather than that potential is the one that is actual, when the matter of itself is indifferent to either, means the matter (which is potentiality) does not account for its actuality in this way.

      Or consider the argument from change. The argument from change, in short, says that a potential is being actualized here and now (i.e. something is undergoing change), and that this is because there is something that actualizes others without itself being actualized by another (Pure Actuality).

      Pure Actuality has actuality of itself - that's why it is pure actuality. To have actuality of itself, something must be pure actuality and not a compound of act/potency. But material things are compounds of act/potency. So no material thing accounts for its actuality.

      In other words, for something to exist of itself without being actualized it would have to be pure actuality.

      I would also add that a compound of act/potency is something in which essence and existence are not identical. It exists, but not in virtue of what it is. If something's essence and existence are identical, this means what it is just is existence itself; while if something's essence and existence are distinct, essence is in potency with respect to existence, which is actuality. And so again, when we have a compound of act/potency, we are left with something that does not account for its actuality.

      I should not that Aquinas and the tradition that follows him apply the act/potency distinction further than Aristotle did.

      Anyway, the general idea is that no limited, composite being accounts for its own actuality. The only kind of thing that can account for its own actuality (that is, it is not actualized by another) is something that is pure actuality; and what it is to be pure actuality is radically unlike what it is to be a material thing - I.e. a compound of actuality and potentiality.

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    31. @Wilson,


      1) When I say that space-time could fail to exist, what I mean by that is not that we should start to somehow doubt space-time, but simply to point out that space-time does not explain it's own existence and requires something outside of it to make it exist.


      2) It is true that many people today ask the question of what God is and if He is seperately, but this is a mistake. God is absolutely simple and not composed of essence and existence, but rather is existence itself. We can ask what space-time is and if it exists, but in order to explain how and why it exists we must appeal to something that doesn't have an answer to the what question that is distinct from the if it exists question. And that is what classical theists define as God.

      Now because God is existence itself, it is impossible that he should ever even in principle fail to exist. He is like the laws of logic which cannot fail to be true, and is necessary for the same reasons as the laws of logic are.

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    32. Jason:
      You write: “ to say there is something that is Pure Actuality, eternal, immaterial, intellect etc. is not pantheism. Pantheism claims God = world; world=God.” I agree but I don’t see how we have established that it must be immaterial or an intellect, and without these it’s just the universe = God.
      I really like your reply here:
      “ ‘How do we establish that existence or its objects require something outside themselves to maintain or actualize themselves?’ One way is this. A compound of actuality and potentiality (or more specifically, matter) has the potential to exist in various different modes or forms. This potential rather than that potential is the one that is actual, when the matter of itself is indifferent to either, means the matter (which is potentiality) does not account for its actuality in this way……. But material things are compounds of act/potency. So no material thing accounts for its actuality.”
      That is clear and convincing but only if we accept libertarian type free will. Is there a way to make it work with compatiblism (“Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills” ) or can it only work with libertarian type free will? Because for the actuality and potentiality to be different in the way you describe it necessitates that matter could have turned out differently. Both compatibilists and determinists, and frankly most scientists, don’t think this is the case. There are scientists who accept the ‘many worlds’ hypothesis that would agree that there are many ways it could go but they argue that all of those potentials actually happened in different instances of the universe. Meaning for them your above explained view would not work as an argument for god because their answer to why it turn out this way rather than that is that it turned out all the different ways it could have because there is an infinite set of instances of our universe in the multiverse.
      It seems I may have received my answer: all of these arguments Feser makes are tied to libertarian type free will.

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    33. Jason,

      Rather, that a potential, or any act limited by potential, requires actualization in order to be actual. [..] We don't assume this

      You certainly do assume this as a fundamental premise. For suppose I claim that a contingent actual has obtained without any actualization of the respective potential. For example suppose I claim that a radioactive atom has decayed at time t without anything actualizing its potential to decay at time t. Prove that this claim is wrong.

      Feser in his book discusses exactly the above example, but does not really answer it. The claim that nothing causes the radioactive atom to decay at time t fits perfectly with current scientific understanding and does not entail any logical contradiction. So to believe this is not the case is just that: an assumption.

      Now Thomists’ argument for this assumption is that otherwise nature becomes unintelligible. But, first, if theism is false then nature may well be unintelligible, indeed irrational through and through. And, second, as it happens I personally have no trouble with random (and thus uncaused) actualization of potentials. I find nothing unintelligible about such events. Moreover if God wants to create nature in a way that such actualizations do obtain surely it’s not like God wouldn’t do so lest Aquinas’s metaphysics be violated. Does God have good reason for creating nature like that? I think so, and that’s why I believe God made it so.

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    34. Joe
      The view I hold is indeed that existence is included in the nature of a thing as part of a definition.
      We don't know the actual nature of a thing unless we look for it, but that's not problematic at all.
      E.g. the mental image of a unicorn exists and as such is a "thing" that has the nature of being a mental image. What we need to look for is whether the material thing that corresponds to the mental image of a unicorn exists.
      So, no, unicorns are not non-existing things, mental unicorns are existing things and material unicorns do not exist, but they are not non-existing things, because a thing is, by definition, something that exists.
      Hence, yes, all definitions of things contain one element in common. But that is actually a tautology because it amounts to saying that something that exists, exists.

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    35. It's funny, I asked a physicist on twitter before whether SR entailed eternalism and the answer I got back was no.

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    36. material unicorns do not exist, but they are not non-existing things,

      ??????? That doesn't make sense. They do not exist but they are not non-existing, What!?!

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    37. Of course they are non-existing, but they are not non-existing things.

      Delete
    38. @Anonymous 3:57,


      Oh it makes perfect sense once you understand Walter's definition of the word "thing" includes existence as a property. If something doesn't exist, it's not a "thing" by his definition.

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    39. But that is an odd definition, thing just means that what exists?
      It turns out a pen would fail to be a thing just in virtue of not existing but this is absurd or at least that is very counter-intuitive.

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    40. So, you believe that there are things that don't exist? That seems counter-intuitive to me.

      Delete
    41. @Anonymous 7:22,


      Well, that is the price of Existential Inertia.

      Delete
    42. How is that counter-intuitive view? Unless you simply assume that to be a thing just means to exist which is hardly an intuitive view, of course there are things that don't exist.

      or you're saying that there are things which are not things which is odd.

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    43. @Walter,


      There are things that exist, and things that don't exist. The ones that exist are contingent entities, while those that don't are ideas or essences.


      A thing is not defined by existence. Things are in fact essences, which can either exist and be instantiated, or be ideas that don't have existence.


      A pencil will always be a pencil. The essence of a pencil can either be instantiated and thus we have an existing pencil, or a pencil could be just an idea that isn't instantiated and doesn't actually exist.


      In fact, some make the argument that most chess moves will never actually be instantiated without eternal time.



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    44. @Anonymous and Joe

      "There are things that don't exist" is the same as "There exist things that don't exist", which is a clear absurdity.
      Either essences exist, in which case it makes no sense to talk about existence as something different from essence, or essences don't exist, in which case they are nothing.
      What you seem to suggest is that there is some kind of middle ground between existing and not existing.
      There are other problems with your view. e.g. where do "ideas that are not instantiated" reside? If thye reside in someone's mind, they clearly exist, which is my view.
      Or do they reside in some Platonic realm? That would imply a denying that Goid is the creator of everything that exists.
      You could also say that there are ideas in God's mind that are not instantiated, but that would mean that God has unactualized potentials.

      The only way out of this is, I believe, getting rid of the distinction between essence and existence and acknowledging that there is no such thing as a non-existing thing. (pun intended)

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    45. @Walter,


      It would be mistaken to say that essences don't exist per se, but rather that they subsist, and do so in the same way that mathematical truths subsist.


      Since universals reside in God's intellect, it might be said that they thus exist. The problem is that this requires an equivocation on the term exist. We know that universals are out there so to speak, but not that they exist as fully fledged particulars. Rather they subsist, in a way similar to how unactualised possibilities might subsist.


      As for ideas in God's mind implying He has potentials, this would again be false. God is simple, and what this means is that in God all truths and universals and essences are seen and known as one thing. To say that there being ideas that are not instantiated implies composition is like saying that God not actualising a potential about the world implies composition. It is simply a mistaken conception of a wide variety of things.

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    46. Joe

      Either essences are nothing or they are something. if thye are something, thye exist. There is no equivocation on the term exist here. What seems to be gouing on is that some kind of artificial distinction between things that exist and things that don't exist is forced upon us in order to make a case for a distinction between essence and existence, but that seems like a completely unnecessary complication.

      The classic view is that God may decide (have decided) to create nothing or to create something different, but that means that some ideas in God's mind are not actualized, which means they are unactualized potentials. this has nothing to do with potentails about the world but with ideas (internal to God) that are not actualized.

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    47. 1) Mathematical truths are something, yet they do not exist as instantiated particulars, and would subsist even if the world never existed.


      What's important to realise here is that existence is not an essence, which can be deduced from the fact that multiple things each have their own identity, which means that the existence of a thing is not it's identity.


      2) This would imply ontological maximalism if any unactualised ideas imply composition, which is what most theists would clearly deny and for which there is no evidence.


      And there are also arguments when considering the Augustinian argument that show that the mind that contains them cannot contain any composition as well, so you're on the wrong footing here.

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    48. Joe

      1) If mathematical truths are something, they exist. They may have necessary existence or whatever, but they exist.

      I am not sure I understand what you mean by "multiple things have their own identity". If you mean that there are distinct things, that seems obvious.
      Distinct things exist in a different way. I exist in another way than you do. It is a similar way of exsting, but nevertheless it is different. Mathematical truths do not exist in the same way as I do.

      2) If all ideas exist as one idea in God's mind, then all ideas are actual, so there can be nothing unactualized. This has nothing to do with composition.

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    49. Agree with Joe and Anon here,

      Essence-existence isn't immediately relevant just yet, The main important point raised by anon is how is Walter's definition of thing is justified in the first place, And I agree that such a definition doesn't seem to be justified by our natural language.

      Its worth pointing out that term thing does not name some substantial kind or a particular instead term thing is a place holder term like variable X or a "_____" , this is how we commonly seem to use the term and this is literally how even Google defines it ,look it up.
      So thing denotes a covering term, if I ask how many things are in my hand?, then I mean to ask how many cookies,pen,pencils etc are in my hand.

      Now its clearly odd to suggest that a pencil will only be pencil if it exists.

      Similarly your claim that "Of course they are non-existing, but they are not non-existing things. " is again clearly absurd because that is just what term "thing" denotes in the first place.







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    50. Red

      Wouldn't it strike you as odd if I ask how many things are in your hand, and you answer, "Four: a pen, a pencil, a cookie and a non-existing shoe?"

      Something that doesn't exist is nothing. Seems pretty obvious to me.

      Reminds me of an old joke in which a customer asks for a sandwich without ham and the waiter replies, "We're currently out of snadwiches without ham, but I can offer you one without cheese instead."

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    51. Wouldn't it strike you as odd if I ask how many things are in your hand, and you answer, "Four: a pen, a pencil, a cookie and a non-existing shoe?"

      But reason for its being odd is that it is not in my hand not that it isn't a thing. Its not much oddity here its just that that is a wrong answer.

      Something that doesn't exist is nothing. Seems pretty obvious to me.

      What do you mean is nothing?
      Whether or not pen exists it doesn't make sense to call pen nothing.


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    52. Red

      The point is: if it's not in your hand, where is it? Or if you prefer, what is a non-existing shoe?
      I can form a mental picture of a shoe in my mind, but that is not a non-existing shoe, its an existing mental image of a shoe.

      It doesn't make sense to call non-existence anything at all.

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    53. The point is: if it's not in your hand, where is it? Or if you prefer, what is a non-existing shoe?

      What do you mean? Just like its not in my hand, its not anywhere, Like I said such an answer would simply be wrong, A non-existing shoe is simply not-obtaining of state of affairs of shoe's existence.

      I can form a mental picture of a shoe in my mind, but that is not a non-existing shoe, its an existing mental image of a shoe.

      But how can you tell if that image corresponds to some material shoe whose existence have failed to obtain? If that shoe just is nothing, then it doesn't correspond to anything at all.But this is absurd because how is it then mental image of that particular shoe?

      Again like you wrote above that "material unicorns do not exist, but they are not non-existing things," It is about that I am pointing out that term "thing" is simply a covering term for terms like that in the first place(in this case,material unicorns) So if they can exist or fail to exist then so can "things".

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    54. Red

      We have a radically different view on existence and that's why we keep on talking past each other. The mental inmage I form of a shoe is just that: a mental image of a shoe. Of course I can't tell if that image corresponds to some material shoe whose existence have failed to obtain because there is, in my view, no such thing as "failing to obtain", because nothing fails to exist or to obtian.
      To me, Existence is fudamental, and that's one of the conclusions of the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments I wholeheartedly agree with. But what I do reject is the notion that there is this one actual Existing Being whose essence is existence, alongside other "things" that have essences but don't exist, because non-existence "has" nothing (or rather "hasn't got anything" at all.
      Existence (reality) is, and there is no such "thing" as non-existing reality.

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    55. Walter,
      Well I am not really addressing this from thomistic perspective, its just that it seems the particular definitions you've given to above terms seem unjustified. I am just trying to explain why it seems that way.

      Let me just repeat the points once more, You seem to be taking terms like things or nothing as if they are some sort of predicates or as if they pick out or identify some kind through which one can claim that things by definition exist.

      You say,
      "....I can't tell if that image corresponds to some material shoe whose existence have failed to obtain because there is, in my view, no such thing as "failing to obtain", because nothing fails to exist or to obtian."

      But then what sense if any can be attached to the claim that particular material unicorns are non-existent? You say but they aren't non-existing things to which again I repeat, it doesn't make sense, because again term thing is simply being used as covering term for term material unicorns. So once again our language and intuitions do support the view that things can exist and can fail to exist and it does not seem to support that things by definition exist.

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    56. Red

      The sense that can be attached to the claim that particular material unicorns do not exist is simply that there exists nothing material that corresponds to a mental image of a unicorn. A mental image of a unicorn exists (is a "thing") a material unicorn doesn't exist (is not a "thing"). I use "things" for something that exists, non-existence is not a thing.

      Delete
  6. See what Michael Tooley thinks of your arguments, Ed.

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    1. and your point was?

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    2. What does he think? I'm not aware of Tooley's thought regarding the classical arguments for theism..?

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    3. I can find nothing by that individual online nor anything which would lead me to believe he had reviewed or commented on anything by Ed.

      Tooley is a proponent of the Growing Block theory of Time and a nomic account of causation that makes reference to Platonic universals. His main points of contention would fall into background ontology rather than natural theology specifically. He would object to Ed’s treatment of thePOE and appeals to soul-making theodicies. Other than this I don’t know if he would have anything specifically individual to contribute.

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    4. Actually that should just be taken as a suggestion. You, Feser, phone Tooley up and ask what he thinks of the book right now!

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    5. No, he just happened to be one of the few who took William Lane Craig to school in a debate so I would like to see what he'd say about Ed's arguments

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    6. Which debate was this? I can't remember much about the Tooley debates save that he:

      1. Admits that if there were a sound deductive argument for the existence of God (such as the you-know-what) then the evidential or probabilistic Problem of Evil could be dismissed.

      2. Did not comment on the Proof from Eternal Truths. Not that this means that argument is invulnerable - it was just interesting to see it used in a debate situation and a shame it didn't get a response.

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    7. Funny Anon’s at it again.

      No, Tooley did not take WLC to school. (How anybody can say that with a straight face is beyond me. Even atheists overwhelmingly believed Craig won back then.) Simply because no one can take WLC to school in a live debate.

      Which is not to say his arguments in themselves are the best stuff ever – even if just because, in my opinion, the conceptions of classical theism are vastly superior – but indeed his debating skills and rhetoric are so much better than anyone else’s, it’s not even fair anymore.

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  7. Dr. Feser, if God actualizes all potentials, then what actualizes God?

    jk :-P Good stuff.

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  8. A couple thoughts regarding people's comments about PSR to the effect of "Why did God create THIS universe rather than another one?"

    Let us first define universe. A universe is the totality of the created order. This would include the material universe (or any multiverses posited by whatever your pop science hypothesis of choice is) as well as the immaterial universes of Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell (and any hypothetical Limbo type immaterial states of being).

    One thing to note is that if God is to create anything at all, he must create something finite and contingent. The very definition of God rules out the possibility of God creating another God. This means that any universe God creates will necessarily be less than perfect and less than infinite as a matter of logical necessity.

    Therefore, regarding creation, God, in His freedom, has two choices:

    (1) Create an imperfect and finite universe.

    (2) Create nothing.

    I think most people understand why God would chose (1) over (2). If any of us appreciate the gift of life at all, that is a good enough reason for God to create the universe. This reason does not have to be so compelling that God could not have chosen otherwise, but it is a reason that satisfies PSR.

    Now as for why God created this finite universe as opposed to some other finite universe, well I do not think that is something we can make a judgement on. All we know is that God created our particular portion of the universe that we happen to be aware of. We do not know if God created additional innumerable sections of this universe with other sentient beings, etc. It is a matter of logical necessity, that any universe composed of act and potency must have parts. To say that certain aspects of our universe should exist is to assume that they do not exist. We cannot make this assumption because we do not have the empirical knowledge required to confirm or deny this assumption. If we say that certain aspects of our known universe should NOT exist (evil people, perhaps), we would need to prove that there is absolutely no good reason whatsoever for their existence in order to prove that God has violated PSR. However, this is a tall order if you accept Aquinas' doctrine of Good as participation in Being. The very existence of "bad" aspects of the universe is a good in itself, and anything "bad" is merely a privation of good. But all finite things necessarily have some privation of the Ultimate Good because they can never be Goodness itself. So God is back to choosing between options (1) and (2). Therefore, God's free decision of creating this finite universe in no way violates PSR (or at least the version of PSR that is necessary these kinds of classical arguments for God's existence to pan out).

    Hope this is insightful. Feel free to respond.

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    Replies
    1. @Scott,



      Now as for why God created this finite universe as opposed to some other finite universe, well I do not think that is something we can make a judgement on.



      Are you making the argument that because God is Intellect iself, He is by His nature incapable of doing things brutely and always has a reason for doing things, and for that reason WE KNOW THAT THERE MUST BE REASON AS TO WHY GOD CHOSE TO CREATE THIS SPECIFIC WORLD RATHER THAN ANOTHER?

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    2. @JoeD While I would agree with that (although I would qualify that God's reasons need not be so compelling that they are necessary) statement, that is not the point I was getting at. What I was saying could possibly be illustrated with an example. Someone may ask, why did God decide not to create unicorns in this world? However, I would argue that we cannot ask that question because it is a loaded question that assumes what cannot be assumed (that unicorns do not exist anywhere). So certain renditions of Leibniz's Best World concept cannot get far off the ground because we do not have enough information to determine what is even in our world, let alone whether it is best or not. All we know is that our world is less than perfect and infinite because it is not God, but that is true of ALL possible worlds. Of course I would argue that a rendition of the Best World concept is possible if you consider "Best" from the perspective of the created order (as in, the universe in which I exist is best FOR ME).

      Now you could ask, why don't I have a pet unicorn in this world? But if you did own a pet unicorn, you could also ask why you DO own a pet unicorn. (The same could be asked if Existence in general.) The point is that any contingent world (or even any "necessary" world) is necessarily going to be an admixture of act and potency. Therefore, if you claim that somehow the conditions or properties of this world affect God's nature, you are effectively denying God's transcendence and turning him into a contingent being. My point is that certain actions do not affect your nature. My deciding to turn left or right does not change my nature. Creating one universe over another does not change God's nature.

      Hope this clarifies my view.

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  9. Furthermore, if God DID decide to not create anything, this would still not violate PSR because God does not need a reason for every action that he does not perform. This is because inaction or nothingness does not require explanation because there is nothing to explain. This is not the same as admitting that the non existence of certain things needs an explanation. When someone says that a things nonexistence requires an explanation, it is more of a logical rather than ontological statement. Things do not exist BECAUSE nothing is keeping it in existence (but it is not as if God is CAUSING its nonexistence). Therefore, the non-existence of all manner of ridiculous things (such as unicorns, etc.) is still good empirical evidence against the existence of brute facts (if you deny all of the retorsion arguments against brute facts).

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    1. Scott

      The problem is that the reason why God would choose X over Y is compelling becasue God is necessary and immutable. A non-compelling reason would mean that there is a possible world wX in which God (a necessary being) is different from a possible world wY. IOW, that would amount to claiming God is necessary but has contingent properties. Even if you somehow managed to argue for that, it would still be a clear violation of divine simplicity which says that God has no properties.

      So, if the PSR is true, God choosing to create nothing must have an explanation in God's necessary nature to choose to create something. And that's a genuine contradiction.

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    2. I think it doesn't make sense to speak of God existing in different possible worlds. It's not as if God, a necessary being, could be different in possible worlds because he is not "in" the world. What you are saying seems to imply a sort of Spinozian Necessatarianism. To me it would seem that choosing between creating different worlds would not affect God's substance (or its simplicity) because the contingent world is not part of God, therefore, the contingent world does not need to be so compelling as to be necessary (which would seem to be a contradiction to me, a contingent necessary world, that is). This may be why Spinoza's Necessatarianism is so closely related to his Substance Monism, which I also would reject without denying at least some form of PSR.

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    3. @Scott,



      What you say relates to my own ponderings.


      Why did God create this world rather than another? Because God's Will is His nature due to divine simplicity, the answer to that is self-explanatory, or rather that God is God.


      But divine simplicity entails that God is His Will. And doesn't that mean that if God had created differently, His Will would be different and we would thus have a different God?


      One answer to this is that this would be the same God but with a different Will, or with a different object as to His Will. But the former seems to introduce composition into God's nature since it claims God would be the same but with a different will as if it were a composition or different property of God.

      The latter seems more reasonable and non-controversial, but it's not really clear and doesn't explain how God could have different objects to chose from from eternity.


      What do you think?

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    4. @Scott

      "It's not as if God, a necessary being, could be different in possible worlds". That is the point. God, a necessary being cannot be different in possible worlds, hence, in every possible world, God wills, thinks, creates ... exactly the same.

      I don't claim that the contingent world is part of God. On the contrary, God has no parts at all and definitely no contingent ones.
      It's not that the contigent world is so compelling as to be necssary, it's that, given classical theism there seems to be no room for any contingency at all, which is disastrous for most types of Christianity and especially for Catholicism.

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    5. @Walter Van den Acker It is interesting that you say that Classical Theism leaves no room for contingency when the vast majority of arguments for Classical Theism rely on the contingency of the universe to derive its conclusions (that all contingency ends in a necessary being). If the universe were necessary, then there would be no need for God and parsimony would favor getting rid of God altogether.

      Perhaps other readers could link the post on this blog by Dr. Feser (I cannot remember the title), but he went into the "necessity" of this world given Divine Simplicity. He basically said that, since God did in fact choose this particular universe, given the eternity of God's decision and that He decided it, there is a sense in which it is "necessary" that this world exists. Just as when I decide to eat pancakes for breakfast, after finishing my last bite, it is "necessary" that I had pancakes for breakfast. But that does not mean my choice was necessary or predetermined. Similarly, given that God has, from eternity, decided to create THIS world, and given that He is immutable, there is a sense in which God's Will is "necessary" and cannot be otherwise (because He has eternally decided it to be so). But that does not mean that God was/is compelled in any way to create this world; it is a free choice. Therefore, this world is still completely contingent.

      @JoeD Yes I would reject the different will idea and accept the different object idea. God has different objects to choose from because all objects "pre-exist" as ideas in the Divine Intellect for all eternity. God understands all possible finite combinations of the participation in Being in his simple Intellect simply by virtue of knowing His own essence. (See Aquinas' Summa Theologiae Question 15 Article 2). What specifically is not clear about there being different possible objects of God's Will?

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    6. Scott

      I know that Classical theism in part relies on the contingency of the universe, and that's one of the reasons why I think classical theism is wrong.
      If your summary of Feser's blog article is accurate (I'll try to find it) it doesn't really address my objection<;

      If I may gffer my two cents on the different objects idea, if objects pre-exist as ideas in the divine intellect, then divine simplicity etails that all those ideas are in fact, one. Apart from the fact that that would leave nothing "to choose from" there seems to be a more fudnamental problem here. If objects reside as ideas (an idea) in God's intellect, they are unactualized prior (not necessarily temporally prior) to God's "decison" to actualize them. But that means that God isn't Pure Act, since he has intrinsic unactualized potential, namely his ideas.

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    7. Scott

      I think you will find Dr Feser's blog post on necessity and divine simplicity here
      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.be/2010/05/davies-on-divine-simplicity-and-freedom.html

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    8. People who have access to Philosophy and Phenomenological Research may find interesting the exchange on contingency and necessity and the PSR between Carolyn R. Morillo and Julie Gowen.

      Carolyn R. Morillo, “The Logic of Arguments from Contingency,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 37.3 (1977) 408-417

      Julie Gowen, “A Reply to Morillo’s ‘The Logic of Arguments from Contingency’”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 40.3 (1980), 430-433.

      Morillo replied to Gowen on pp. 433-435 of 40.3 of the same journal.

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    9. @Walter Van den Acker Thank you for the relevant link! Why does the assumption of the contingency of the universe make you reject Classical Theism? If your answer is "because it makes God necessary" then we seem to be arguing in a circle. If it is that it still seems to rob God of His freedom, please let me know where I am unclear in my explanations.

      As for the "multiplicity" of ideas in God, I recommend you read Question 15 of the Summa referenced above. A brief analogy for how God can understand an infinite multiplicity of ideas with one simple idea is this (granted, it is not a perfect analogy). When I think of the number 100, it is a single concept in my head. However there are an infinite number of ways I can conceive of 100, or other numbers participating in one hundred-ness. For example, I can conceive of a 23 and a 77, or five twenties, or one thousand divided by ten, etc. Now, this does not mean that I have an infinite number ideas in my head, but rather, in knowing the number 100, I know all the ways 100 can be imitated. The analogy ends where you see that God can never be added up to so that any number of finite things can ever equal God. Perhaps this would be analogous to realizing that all real numbers "participate" in infinity without actually squalling infinity. Therefore, it is not as if each of these participations are potencies in God, rather, they are the simple essence (Pure Act) of God conceived in multiple ways.

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    10. @Scott,


      This must also be how higher cardinalities of infinity are subsistant in the mind of God vis-a-vis the set of real numbers being actually bigger than the set of the naturals even though they are both infinite.


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    11. Scott

      The assumption of the contingency of the universe makes me reject classical theism not because it makes God necessary but because I don't see how there can be anything contingent on classical theism, so clssical theism and contingent objects don't seem logically compossible.

      I have no problem with God understanding
      a multiciplicity of ideas with one simple idea. Well, in fact I do have lots of problems with that, but those have nothing to do with my objection to God's free choice in creation. If all ideas can be understood as one simple idea (by God), then all ideas should be actual in all possible worlds, which makes them necessary.
      I also fear that describing objects as ideas in God's mind inevitably leads to a kind of panentheistic view.

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    12. How does necessity of God and divine simplicity rule out contingency? I feel like I have done an okay job answering some of your concerns. Do you see a formal contradiction with those statements? Maybe a formal argument could clarify your position, and I could address any problematic premises you suggest, if you like. Then we could focus the discussion.

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    13. Scott

      I am not an expert on formal arguments, but I'll try to formalize it for you.

      1 God is a necessary being
      2 God is simple
      3 God is personal
      4 God is free
      5 God is fully actual
      6 God has one simple, necessary, fully actual idea (from 1, 2, 3 and 4)
      7 The objects of God's simple, necessary, fully actual idea are Scott Lynch and Walter Van den Acker (S and W) (a simplification)
      8 God decides to actualize only S (from 4)
      9 W is not actualized (from 8)
      11 W is (part of) the simple, necessary idea in God's mind.
      12) God is not fully actualized (from 9 and 10)
      Conclusion: God is not Pure Act.

      You can fill in all possible objects in (7), but if there is a possible world (wX)in which one of them is not actualized, then God is not Pure Act in wX.
      But if God is necssary, He is Pure Act in every possible world.
      Hence, in every possible world, every possible object in God's simple idea is actualized.
      Hence, every possible object exists in every possoble world.
      Hence, every possible object is necessary.
      Conclusion: there can be no contingent objects.

      I hope this will help clarify things.

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    14. If I'm not mistaken, (11) should read (10) (you went straight from 9 to 11) and thus (12) should read (11). With this nomenclature, I feel like the issue lies with premise (10) and the conclusion that logically follows. W is not part of the simple mind of God, it certainly also is not the totality of the mind of God. W is merely one logically possible way of incompletely imitating God's perfect nature. But W does not have real existence yet, not even a real potency for actualization. It is merely a logical possibility. And according to Thomistic thinking, logical possibility is not the same as potency (because Potency is a real feature of a substance, like the Potency of metal to melt that wood does not have a Potency for, even if melting wood is not logically incoherent). So, W does not need to be actualized because W does not exist (in any world). I think one problem you are running into is an implicit substance monism. It seems as if you are conceiving of God as the actualization of all potentials rather than Pure Act. But conceiving of God as the actualization of all potentials erases the distinction between God as Pure Act and all other being as a composition of Act and Potency. Some relevant literature might help shed some light on the underlying metaphysics. http://www.thesumma.info/reality/reality6.php

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    15. Scott

      You are right that 11 should be 10 and 12 should be 11.

      So, you claim that 10 is false and that W is not part of God's simple mind, but remember that I am analysing your claim that "all objects "pre-exist" as ideas in the Divine Intellect for all eternity".
      So it seems you now reject that claim and instead claim that objects have no real existence yet.
      I could agree with that, but, again, I am working under the assumption that classical theism is true and objects have an essence that is distinct from their existence. So, in that case, their is an essence of W (although W does not have existence yet) and the essence of W is in God's simple mind. the problem now becomes that there is an essence in God that is not identical to God's existence, hence God cannot be Pure Act.

      So, it's not that I am conceiving God as the actualization of all potentials, but that your view entails it. If W doesn't exist in any world, then W doesn't exist as an idea in God's mind either. In that case, of course, God can be Pure Act.

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    16. I am not reversing my claim that objects "pre-exist". To "pre-exist" would mean before-existing (i.e. not exist, hence the scare quotes). I do reject the premise that anything is a part of God's simple essence. To say that something is a part of God's essence would be to reject divine simplicity right out of the gate. It seems you are implying that God cannot be both transcendent and immanent. But Classical Theism states that God in fact transcends all creation (by being distinct from it) and is immanent (by being its cause). I do not think being the cause of something and being distinct from something are contradictory, in fact they are both required to make since of causation in general (which Classical Theism intends to do).

      Remember also that for Aquinas, existence precedes essence (ontologically). There cannot be a predicate without a real subject. We can logically speak of an essence without referring to a real subject, but that does not mean the essence truly exists. The "essence" (as it "pre-exists" in the mind of God) is only a logical possibility (as one possible way of finitely imitating the infinite) that has to be created ex nihilo by God along with the act of existence of you or me. Since God is the source of any objects existence/actuality, it is irrelevant to God's actuality whether or not any particular subject (apart from God) exists.

      Again, Question 15 of the Summa is relevant. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1015.htm#article2

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    17. Scott

      Well, I can see your point, although I don't agree with it, because the ontological status of essences on classical theism seems extremely ambiguous to me and there seems to be no other reason besides trying to maintain that God has no essneces internal to him to treat ideas not as essences.
      But I don't think we'll agree on thta, so I'll drop it for the moment.

      It doesn't solve the problem of contingencies, though. If objects exist as logical possibilities in God's mind, then it follows that all thoise possibilities are necessarily possible, which means that in every possible world, the same "objects" are possible.
      Hence, the "choice" between them is dependent solely on God's Will. But if God's will is necessary, then every object is necessary. So, there can be no contingencies.

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    18. Everything you said seems correct until this, "But if God's will is necessary, then every object is necessary. So, there can be no contingencies." Why does God's Will being necessary make the objects of His Will necessary? It is necessary that God has a will, yes. But that does not mean that anything He freely chooses to create is necessary. As I have mentioned before, there IS a sense in which the objects are necessary on the supposition that God has willed it, but that does not mean that anything determines God to will the objects into existence. From an absolute (eternal) perspective, the objects are freely chosen and contingent. To say that God's will being necessary makes all objects of his will necessary is to equate a cause with its effect, hence the sense of pantheism. In any case, I do not see any formal contradiction (between Divine Simplicity, Free-Will, and contingent objects) on the part of Classical Theism. I recommend you read 5 Proofs and also Scholastic Metaphysics by Edward Feser. Hopefully that will clarify some of the distinctions for you better than I have been able to.

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    19. Scott

      I have explained why God's will being necessary makes the objects of his will necessary, and it has nothing to do with the supposition that God has willed it but with the fact that
      a necessary will is, by definition, the same in every possible world.
      So, whatever is willed by God is determined by the necessity of His will. If God cannot have different wills in different possible worlds (which you seem to agree with), then God cannot have libertarian free will, because libertarian free will entails the possibility of a different will.
      This has nothing whatsoever to do with equating a cause with its effects nor with pantheism.
      Just to clarify: I am convinced that describing objects as ideas in God's mind inevitably leads to a kind of panentheistic (not pantheistic) view, but that's a separate argument from the one I am making here.

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    20. Scott

      Allow me to explain what I mean.
      Let's suppose there are only 2 logical posibilities, Scott (S) and Walter (W).
      S and W are, by definition, necessarily possible, that is the possibilities S and W exist in every possible world. Hence in w1, S and W exist as objects in God's mind, as well as in w2, etc.
      Now suppose that in w1, God wills to only create S, and in w2 He wills to onoy create W, that means that God's will in w1 is different from His will in w2.
      But that contradicts the necessity of His will.
      So, in order to save the existence of contingent objects, you'll have to deny the necessity of God's will.

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    21. Your definition of a necessary will being one that exists in every possible world conflates the actual (God's necessary will) with the logically possible. Once these two ideas are conflated, it makes since that divine simplicity would be considered contradictory. I think one of the points of contention also may be the entire notion of "possible worlds" and necessity, which is not really used in Thomistic thinking. Modern philosophers tend to think of something as being necessary if it holds in all possible worlds. Thomistic thinkers consider the nature of a thing in itself, and then use the definition or essence of the thing to determine whether or not it is necessary (by determining if existence is part of its essence, and thus possible or necessary in any or all worlds). So it is not that something holds true in all possible worlds and is therefore necessary, but rather, something is found to be necessary (because that is the only way to explain the existence of contingent things) and therefore will necessarily exist in any possible world. But contingent things have nothing in their nature that makes them exist (their essence does not include existence). Therefore, they are only "necessary" on the supposition that they are in fact willed to exist by God (as long as they are so willed). But most people think of absolute necessity when speaking of the necessity or contingency of our world, and our world IS contingent in the absolute and relevant sense. So in an absolute since, God could have a different will with respect to the created order insofar as He could have willed a different kind of world. But the difference (and contingency) in will does not lie in God but rather in the relation between God's will and the finite objects of His will. (See question 19, Article 3, reply to objection 4 of the Summa). None of this affects the necessity and simplicity of God's will towards Himself which is eternal and fixed. All of Question 19 (especially Article 3) of the Summa is relevant. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1019.htm

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    22. Scott

      Possible world semantics are simply a way of lokking at things. Possible worlds, the way I use them, are a kind of analogies. Some people use PWS because it makes it easier to "visualize" things.
      The main problem in your view (which is also Feser's as far as i know) is this
      "So in an absolute sense, God could have a different will with respect to the created order insofar as He could have willed a different kind of world"
      I have explained to you why God, being simple and necessary cannot have a different will and why it makes no sense to claim that the difference in will lies in the relation between God's will and the finite objects of his will.
      The finite objects of his will are absolutely necessary, not simply necessary by supposition.
      I have explained you why that is so, but you seemed to have ignored it.
      So, no, Question 19 is not relevant at all to my objection. It is an interesting read, and it answers lots of possible objections, but not the one I am presenting here.
      The "Cambridge properties" reply, used by Feser, is actually a dead horse in this case.

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    23. Reply to objection 4: Sometimes a necessary cause has a non-necessary relation to an effect; owing to a deficiency in the effect, and not in the cause. Even so, the sun's power has a non-necessary relation to some contingent events on this earth, owing to a defect not in the solar power, but in the effect that proceeds not necessarilyfrom the cause. In the same way, that God does not necessarily will some of the things that He wills, does not result from defect in the divine will, but from a defect belonging to the nature of the thing willed, namely, that the perfect goodness of God can be without it; and such defect accompanies all created good.

      I feel like this answers your main objection. Based on your original argument, your conclusion was that W is not actualized, therefore God is not actualized (in a possible world). But the actualization of W has no bearing whatsoever on the God being Pure Act. It is not even proper to say that God is actualized (because He has no potentials to be actualized, even by Himself). This is why I keep suggesting you are implicitly accepting a kind of substance monism. Because IF you think that the created order in any way affects God, you must hold that the created order is some how part of God. I do not think this is ignoring your rationale; I feel like I am responding to it appropriately.

      I suppose we could debate this forever. So I will leave you with the last word (if you like), but I will encourage you to read Dr. Feser's works and deepen your knowledge of the relevant literature.

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    24. Scott


      I had already dropped my original argument, not because I think it's wrong, but because the ambiguity of some Thomistic notions makes a discussion on that argument too complex for this combox.
      That's why I chose to focus on another argument and Aquinas' reply may answer objction 4, but objection 4 is not my objection. Thomas' answer does not answer my objection, it doesn't even address it.
      So, yes, you are, probably inadvertently, ignoring my rationale. You seem to responding, again probably inadvertently, to straw men.

      That said, I think it's wise to stop this debate right here.
      Thank you for the interesting discussion.


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    25. Thank you for the civil discussion as well! If you like, please let me know if there is any relevant literature that might help me understand your viewpoint on a deeper level that cannot be conveyed in a combox.

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  10. Knock it off, Poe.

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  11. My deleted comments were poorly written. Let me try again: In the first of the five proofs laid out by Dr Feser for the existence of God (the "Aristotelian" argument involving change and the actualization of potentials), I'm fine with all the steps of the argument save for the one that deduces that the Unactualized Actualizer (=UA) is purely actual. I'm fine with the actualizer being unactualized, but I must be missing something obvious in not seeing how one can deduce that the UA has no potential and thus is purely actual.

    Dr Feser near the end of the chapter on the first argument discusses how one might object to the claim that the Unmoved Mover is (in addition) unmovable, but the good Dr seems to be discussing potentiality-related-to-existence and not potentiality-in-general in the page where he does this. Again, I ask with a certain humility as somebody who thinks he's missing something here, since neither Feser nor the ancients would hand-wave over this point.

    Is there something more that can be said for why the UA is purely actual and not an unactualized actual entity with at least one potentiality? This is a big deal to me, because the lack of potentiality in the UA is repeatedly used to argue for the UA having some of the attributes that we associate with God (omnipotence, non-materialness, eternality, omniscience, will/intellect). These would not (as I understand things) follow if the UA has some potentiality.

    Apologies if I'm garbling terminology here; trying to learn this material and wrestle with it. I may be overthinking things (??).

    My compliments to Dr Feser for such an interesting book.

    PS unrelated to above --- J. Prejean, if you're out there and remember this very pedantic Protestsant, send me a shout at my gmail account. First name dot last name at gmail dot com. Purely social.

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    1. At some point in the book Feser points out that, insofar as something has potentialities, it is necessarily composite, i.e. it has an actual part and a potential part. Any composite, though, is going to be merely potential relative to its parts, and so there must be something other than the composite thing in question that actualizes the potential for the parts to exist together as a whole, and so no composite thing, and therefore nothing that had potentialities, could be an "unactualized actualizer" that the Aristotelian proof demonstrates to exist.

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    2. Thanks for the reply, which looks quite promising. If I may make one more question disguised poorly as a comment: my understanding is that the proofs are supposed to be self-contained, so that (say) the Aristotelian proof would hold and be sound even if it were the only chapter in the book. You are appealing to (I believe) the neo-Platonic proof to bolster up my gap in understanding the Aristotelian proof. Nothing wrong with that of course, but is there an argument within the Aristotelian proof that the unactualized actualizer is purely actual?

      Thanks very much for the answer, very helpful. I will have to digest this and let it sit in.

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    3. At this point Dr Feser might come in and say something like "Yes, Eric, there is an argument within the Aristotelian proof that the UA is purely actual, but you just don't get it" and he'd be correct. But for whatever reason, the discussion there just doesn't sink in with me. Like I said, this is in all likelihood a defect in my understanding rather than a defect in the argument.

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    4. Well, I think there's bound to be some overlap and I don't find it especially surprising if the fundamental metaphysical considerations of one argument are consistent with, and indeed support, the considerations of other arguments.

      But I don't think appealing to composition and simplicity, of itself, steps outside the Aristotelian argument. Again, the parts qua parts merely potentially form a whole. So what is it that actualizes that potentiality? It cannot be the whole itself as this would seem to imply some kind of incoherent self-causation. Nor could it be the parts, as this would seem to entail a vicious circularity or regress depending on how it's formulated. So it'd have to be something else, already actual, that actualizes the potentiality of the parts to form a whole.

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  12. Thank you Hayekian for taking the time to respond again. I agree that one expects overlap between the arguments (and indeed I see much overlap between the arguments). It was just that, for whatever reason, I wasn't seeing how the Aristotelian argument was self-contained. But this is a far cry from saying that it isn't solid for other reasons.

    This stuff is very interesting. Very slippery to think about to my mind, which is not a novice in philosophy, but is a novice with respect to this sort of stuff.

    Thanks again for your time.

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  13. I heard the discussion between Feser and atheist philosopher Arif Ahmed on the Aristotelian and the Rationalist. Certainly worth a listen.

    In my mind the weakest response by Feser came when Ahmed asked for the justification if the premise that every change (every actualization of a potential) must have a cause. Why is it impossible for a change to occur without a cause? This is also my criticism of the Aristotelian argument. Feser’s answer is basically that this is how we think: if we observe some common change we often already know its cause, and if we observe some unexpected change we always assume there must be a cause. But of course reality is not required to respect our ways of thinking, and modern science does describe some events (as the decay of a radioactive atom at time t) as having literally no cause. Einstein deeply disliked the idea and hypothesized that there must be “hidden variables” which caused such behavior, but all intents in the last 100 years to find some reason for believing that such hidden variables exist have fallen flat.

    Feser’s weakest response came when he claimed that the burden of proof on this point lies with the other side. There are two reasons for my criticism: First, when one presents a proof the burden of justifying one’s premises lies with oneself. Secondly, impossibility claims (such as “it is impossible for a change to obtain without a cause which actualizes the respective potential”) are very strong claims and thus particularly demanding in justification. Conversely possibility claims (such as “It is possible that an apple made of gold lies somewhere on the surface of the moon”) are much weaker and in many cases can be reasonably accepted as true without further justification, albeit they are usually worthless in an argument.

    Another weak moment came with the rationalist proof was discussed. Here Feser correctly observes that if the PSR is false then there are some true brute and thus unintelligible facts. But then goes on to argue that even if one brute fact were to exist then the whole edifice of human rationality would break down since we would not be justified in trusting in our own cognitive faculties. But suppose physicists were to discover that all physical phenomena can be described with unlimited precision using just one simple equation containing just one fundamental constant, namely the number 5. One might still ask “why is it 5 and not 4 or 6?”. To answer “that’s just a brute fact” would certainly not bring down all of rationality nor would it in any way shape or manner lead us to doubt in our cognitive faculties.

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  14. Why is it impossible for a change to occur without a cause?

    It is impossible for something to be in a condition of "in potency to X actuality but not having X actuality" to change to the condition of "having X actuality" without there being some reason for "having X actuality" when before it did not have X actuality. That just is "a cause".

    The alternative is that things happen for no reason, that actualities pop into existence for no reason. Not only is this simply impossible given the meanings of "potency" and "actuality" that Aristotle was using, it would mean also that EVERY observable event that happens could just as easily be uncaused as caused, which would mean that scientists who insist on spending absolutely enormous efforts to go on finding "the cause", even after multiple failures to discover the cause, are doing something foolish because they are making a presumption that it is worthwhile to search for a cause when it is just as possible that there isn't one. Actually, it would be logically impossible to assign a probability that a given event is caused versus not caused, so it might be far more likely to be uncaused than caused. If there are brute facts, there is no way to pre-determine how many brute facts there are.

    But the observation that our response to events by searching for their causes implies a recognition that something needs explaining is secondary to the basic point, which is that the mere suggestion that we might get the second condition "has X actuality" after the prior condition "does not have X actuality" without a cause is to misunderstand "actuality" to begin with.

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    1. Anonymous

      It is impossible for something to be in a condition of "in potency to X actuality but not having X actuality" to change to the condition of "having X actuality"

      If the distinction between potency and act is truly as radical as you seem to believe, then you are correct, but the real question is: does the act/potency distinction correspond to what reality is like?
      Some interpretations of quantum mechanics allow for "things" to happen without clear causes. Sure, there is a condition that makes it possible for certain quantum events to occur, but it seems to me that we can describe this condition as a potency and the "things" that happen as a kind of actuality.
      Under this interpretation, it seems perfectly possible for something to be in a condition of "in potency to X actuality but not having X actuality" to change to the condition of "having X actuality".

      Maybe this model is incorrect and the "things" de have causes we are simply unbale to observe, but until someone can actually prove that there is such a cause, "impossibility" claims are a bit premature.

      Moreover, even people who think that quantum events are truly without causes still spend absolutely enormous efforts to go finding causes for other things and that is, in part, due to the fact that the vast amount of ordinary events are observed to have causes, so it is not impossible to assign a probability that a given event is caused. What is true is that we cannot ever assign a 100 % probability to anything. But science e.g; does not work with certainties.

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  15. But of course reality is not required to respect our ways of thinking, and modern science does describe some events (as the decay of a radioactive atom at time t) as having literally no cause.

    I quote:

    While the orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics, called the Copenhagen interpretation, assumes true randomness, other interpretations do not. There are several interpretations of quantum physics. Most explain the same equations and experimental results but differ as to the MEANING of the equations. These include the Bohmian interpretation and the Many Worlds Interpretation, both of which are deterministic (or largely deterministic) and rule out randomness.

    At this time, physicists are not able to grant more validity to one interpretation rather than another based on experimental results. So, there’s alack of consensus as to interpretations, and, in particular, a lack of consensus as to whether nature is characterized by true randomness at the quantum level; or, instead, we’re just ignorant as to all the processes governing quantum behavior such as nuclear decay.

    The orthodox Copenhagen interpretation has been taught in physics classrooms for almost 100 years. It holds that nature at the quantum level is characterized by true randomness, including as to the timing of radioactive decay. Since the Copenhagen interpretation has been taught so long, some people assume that it IS quantum mechanics.


    I observe that, logically, there being a known rate of decay (for large samples) of atomic nuclei or of particles implies reasons for the decay. Something that is truly and absolutely uncaused cannot be described by mathematical rules that fit the events into a law, even a probabilistic one. Physicists who would claim that neutron decay (as one example) being truly random and uncaused and yet describable in the aggregate according to a law need to go to school for some logic classes. There cannot be a rule that describes what happens without rules, principles, or causes.

    Also, if there were some events that occur without a rule and without a cause, then there could not be any possible principle to preclude ANY events from occurring the same way. It could not be limited solely to "quantum-sized" events: we could also see gold ingots appear out of nothing, clowns popping into existence without prior cause, or elephants, or stars and planets, and galaxies, and any other thing that could exist at all: purple trees, livers that do not pertain to any body, diplomats in the State Dept that are not dye-in-the-wool liberals, anything that could exist. OK, maybe that last is impossible. If there can be random uncaused actualities, there cannot be a principle that demands that they be only small events, and claim that they are limited to small events is itself a claim that they occur according to some rule.

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    1. Anonymous

      The claim is that some individual events at the quantum level may be uncaused, nothing more and nothing less.
      The problem how some people interpret "uncaused". It is not as if things can come form "absolute nothingness", what is meant is that there is a state of affairs that has a certain probability of changing into another state of affairs.
      Yes, that is a "rule" that besically says the reality has certain properties.
      But you seem to forget one thing here. If this interpretation if correct, then the distinction between potentiality and actuality fades away.
      Now, you are correct that there’s a lack of consensus as to interpretations, so it would be premature if I were to claim that this is a defeater for the argument from motion. But it is equally premature to claim that it is impossible for change to occur without a cause. It may be very hard to imgine this, I agree, but as long as e.g. the Copenhagen Interpretation is not proven impossible, the claim the change cannot possibily occur without a cause is simply not justified.

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    2. If scientists assign a certain probability to its happening, then whether the event happens or not is according to a rule - namely, the probability assigned.

      It is nonsensical to say something happens "according to a rule" but not on the basis of some reason.

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    3. Reality can either be necessarily such that there is a certain probability that certain events happen, in which case, I agree that there is a "reason".
      On the other hand reality could just happen to be such that there is a certain probability that certain events happen.
      The point is that the second scenario does not preclude that those certain events cause other events or, if you prefer, are the reason for other events.

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    4. The question at hand is: What caused the radioactive atom to decay at time t? Or, in A-T terminology, what caused the actualization of the potential of the radioactive atom to decay at time t?

      Quantum physics does *not* answer that question. Quantum physics (as is the case with all science) discovers mathematical order (whether deterministic or probabilistic) in physical phenomena and nothing more. The above question is a question about what takes place in reality, and is therefore a metaphysical question. There are two possible answers to that question: Either there is a cause for that change or there isn’t. A-T metaphysics is based on the claim that the latter view is unintelligible.

      Now there are several interpretations of quantum physics and thus metaphysical descriptions of the reality that causes our experiences of physical phenomena. As Feser explains in the quote Anonymous (January 4, 2018 at 6:03 AM) introduced in this thread, one of these interpretations, namely Bohm’s, describes a reality in which what causes the decay of that radioactive atom at time t is the so-called pilot wave. This is a vastly complex field which is *essentially* unknowable. But this only proves that there is a borderline intelligible metaphysics which says there is a cause for the radioactive atom decaying at time t. But there is another interpretation, namely Copenhagen, which describes a reality in which that change obtained without any cause whatsoever. The Copenhagen interpretation is intelligible too, indeed much more intelligible than Bohm’s and that’s why it is the one taught in quantum physics classes.

      In the aforementioned quote Feser wants to give the impression that while there is a possibility of their being a cause A-T metaphysics remains viable. But that’s not the case, for in order to invalidate A-T it suffices to demonstrate that there is an intelligible metaphysical theory which denies the necessary existence of causes. And we have just that. Aquinas’s project is built on the principle “To be intelligible reality must be thus”, but the intelligibility of the Copenhagen interpretation disproves his solution. On the other hand as far as I am concerned the correct solution was discovered by Berkeley (whom Feser sadly thinks of as being “nuts”). I find that Berkeley’s metaphysics is the only truly intelligible description of reality, and I say this follows from true first principles namely from the nature of our cognitive faculties. It’s a pity that what I take to be a passion for tradition keeps such a smart mind as Feser’s from seeing this.

      Incidentally the intelligibility and thus the possibility of uncaused events in a rational creation is splendid news for theodicy and thus for the growth of our understanding of God. But that’s another issue.

      I have a rather long text where I argue that it is unreasonable to believe that determinism is true. This is relevant to the above discussion, because if the physical world is not deterministic then physical phenomena (such as the decay of a radioactive atom at time t) need not have a cause. And indeed the potential absence of causes would be the natural understanding, but not the only possible one: the theist may hypothesize that God is the cause of all physical phenomena which do not have a physical cause.

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    5. That the Copenhagen interpretation is "intelligible" in the philosophical and metaphysical sense intended, is not certain. If it turns out to be the wrong interpretation, the same proof that it is wrong will in some sense be the proof that it was never fully intelligible all along. In that event, the later scientists would correctly say of the 20th century reflections on it that "the manner in which the Copenhagen interpretation was fundamentally unintelligible was not yet determined." Ignorance of the lack of cohesion in a theory is not intelligibility per se.

      Feser is not the source of the quote above.

      In any case, if a person is willing to hold that an event can be caused by non-deterministic causes, then they have no strong reason to accept a Copenhagen theory of "no cause" based on a lack of finding a deterministic relationship between prior conditions and later conditions. Non-deterministic causes will naturally show situations where there is no deterministic relationship between prior conditions and later conditions. Modern physicists are emotionally unprepared to accept such type of cause, except inversely by simply asserting it to be "not a cause" in quantum events.

      It's rather similar to Lawrence Krauss's magical hand-waving over the meaning of "nothing" in "A Universe From Nothing".

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    6. And I will point out, again: if there is a rate of decay of neutrons (i.e. one rate that is consistent between samples), then there is a reason the rate is that rate and not some other rate. It is not just "not known" but unintelligible to assert that there is a specific rate of decay but no reason for that specific rate. There being no reason at all could only result in their being no determinate rate that applies across different samples.

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    7. Anonymous

      There is a reason for that rate, but, at least under the Copenhagen interpretation, there is no reason for neutrom x to decay at time t.
      So, the nature of reality may restrict which events are actually possible without offering a sufficient reason for a certain event.
      This would count as an exception to the PSR.

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  16. Anonymous, I suspect that part of what is going on is that scientists are looking only for deterministic efficient causes. When you allow for non-deterministic causes, and other kinds of cause than efficient causality, their "it's not caused" fails to be as rigorous as they suppose. In addition to being merely one interpretation of the data, not "proven".

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    1. Tony

      The quation is whether something (a change) can happen in the absense of an efficient cause. If it can, the argument form change fails.

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  17. Walter, the actual question is whether a change can happen in the absence of a cause.

    Your attempt to reduce the question to "the absence of an efficient cause" simply begs the question, by interposing an assumption into the considerations, that only efficient causality will be considered. Which is precisely the issue I raised.

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  18. Tony

    Let's suppose there is some kind of eternal "prime matter" that can spontaneously become something else or stay the same. In that case, we have a material cause, but we don't really have an efficient cause.
    Yet, this would contradict that something can only be changed by something external to it that is immutable. So, if something can spontaneously become something else, the argument from change fails.

    The absence of any cause at all would mean that something can come from nothing.
    Maybe there are people who think that's possible, but I, for one, reject the possibility of something coming from nothing. For the same reason I reject creatio ex nihilo.

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  19. Let's suppose there is some kind of eternal "prime matter" that can spontaneously become something else or stay the same. ... So, if something can spontaneously become something else, the argument from change fails.

    But the question is whether anyone is ALLOWED to "suppose" what you supposed in the first sentence. Is it tantamount to supposing, say, some "condition A" about squares that appears to be plausible but is logically equivalent to condition B, which is equivalent to condition C, ... which implies one side not equal to another side. If "being", "act", and "potency" are the kind of thing that Aristotle says, then it is not the sort of thing for which the supposition could possibly make sense. A person who objects that they don't think being, act and potency are like that should be arguing that issue, not simply assuming a contradictory assumption that (unmentioned) really picks a bone with a prior principle. Making the above assumption WITHOUT disagreeing with Aristotle on being, act, and potency really is nonsensical.

    The absence of any cause at all would mean that something can come from nothing.
    Maybe there are people who think that's possible, but I, for one, reject the possibility of something coming from nothing. For the same reason I reject creatio ex nihilo. For the same reason I reject creatio ex nihilo.


    I can see that one might object to creation on various grounds. But the claim of (divine) creation is that it is NOT coming to be "ex nihilo", it is coming to be on account of something prior.

    What I suspect you object to is coming to be of material being from a prior condition without there being any material being - the matter coming from "nothing" in the qualified sense of "not from other matter". This is a different problem than the more GENERAL problem of "coming to be from nothing". One can argue that it is just as big a problem, but they really do stand differently.

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    1. Tony

      I said the questtion is whether something (a change) can happen in the absense of an efficient cause, and the example of prime matter was meant to show that if something can change in the absence of an efficient cause (even if it has a material cause, e.g.) then the Aristotelean notion of being, act and potency is wrong.
      And if the Copenhagen interpretation of QM is correct, the Aristotelan notion of act and potency etc; is wrong.
      I am not claiming that the Copenhagen interpretation is correct, BTW, but it hasn't been proven wrong and as long as it hasn't been proven wrong, serious doubt about A-T metaphysics is justified.

      And I object to coming to be of material being from nothing. I don't object to coming to be from a prior immaterial condition.

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  20. I see Stardusty, the one-trick pony, has infected the comments section of the Cross Examined website.

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  21. I saw Dr. Feser on EWTN today. I heard his thoughts on God as the self-actualized actualizer. Well, I don't want to go all Arian this evening but...

    If God the Father is the begetter while God the Son is the begotten, doesn't God the Son require God the Father to be actualized. If so, how can God the Son be God if he requires a begetter in order to be the begotten.

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