Thursday, September 20, 2018

Reply to Blackburn on Five Proofs


In the September 7 issue of The Times Literary Supplement, Simon Blackburn reviewed my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  The following response appeared in the TLS letters page in the September 14 issue:

Even I will admit that it is not entirely unpleasant to be criticized with the panache and wit that Simon Blackburn brings to the task.  All the same, I think he underestimates both the strengths of my position and the weaknesses of his own.  

The broadly Humean epistemology he deploys against the Scholastic theism I defend in Five Proofs of the Existence of God requires a careful balancing act.  On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature.  For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation.

These limits have to be even more severe than those that Aristotle, Plotinus, Aquinas and other ancient and medieval philosophical theists would already draw themselves.  Precisely because of its ultimacy, the divine cause of things is only barely intelligible to the human mind.  Reason’s grasp of it is genuine, but only at the fingertips.  Hence Aquinas’s heavy emphasis on the via negativa and the analogical use of language.  The intellect gets in just under the wire.  To avoid theism, the Humean has to make sure that the intellect doesn’t even get to the wire.

On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.

It is one of the key contentions of my book that this balancing trick cannot be pulled off – that to keep reason robust enough to support science and philosophy (even Humean philosophy) as going concerns will inevitably make it robust enough to support Scholastic theism as well.

One way to see this is by way of the principle of sufficient reason, which the Humean must deny.  According to the weak version of the principle that I would endorse (which owes more to Aquinas than to the excessive rationalism of Leibniz), all concrete reality is intelligible.  Humeans like Blackburn cannot accept the “all” without becoming Scholastic theists.  But they cannot replace it with “no” without undermining both science and their own philosophical position.  So they must claim that some concrete reality is intelligible and some is not.  But where to draw the line, and why there exactly?

No principled answer is forthcoming.  Certainly there is no coherent way to draw it, as many atheists attempt to do, at the fundamental laws of nature.  Higher-level laws are explained by lower-level laws in something like the way the book on the top of a stack is held up by the ones below it.  Take away the floor, and there is nothing that gives the bottom book any power to hold up the top book.  Similarly, make the fundamental laws into unintelligible brute facts, and they have no intelligibility to pass upward to higher-level laws – which in turn will have no intelligibility to pass along to the phenomena they are supposed to be explaining.  The world’s being just a little bit unintelligible is like its being just a little bit pregnant.  Or it is like having a cancer that metastasizes unto the remotest extremity.

Another way to see the problem is by consideration of Hume’s Fork in its contemporary guise – the conceit that if you’re not doing natural science, then the only thing left for you to be doing is “conceptual analysis,” which tells us at best how we have to think about reality, but not how reality itself really is.  The trouble with this supposition is that it is itself a proposition neither of natural science nor of conceptual analysis, but rather reflects precisely the third sort of perspective which it alleges to be impossible.  Faced with traditional metaphysical claims, the Humean begins with an incredulous stare.  But he ends with a coprophagic grin, caught in the very act – metaphysics – he decries as philosophically unchaste.  

Blackburn’s playful comparison of a divine first cause to a number ignores the rather crucial difference that numbers are (notoriously) causally inert.  This is a little like saying that a living man is like a dead man, except for being living.

In summary, the trouble with Blackburn’s review is that the key questions have not really been addressed.  Or rather, they have been begged. 

Edward Feser
Department of Philosophy
Pasadena City College

135 comments:

  1. How can someone deny the PSR in some areas of reality and deny the PSR in other areas of reality without drawing an arbitrary line? In other words, what good reasons are there for saying that the PSR reasons applies to everything within the universe and notnof the universe itself?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent review. I can only imagine the restraint it took not to go after Blackburn's will to power and ad hominem nonsense.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Copophtagoc grin! That’s BRILLIANT!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Coprophagic* my phone autocorrect is not brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think it’s also relevant to note that only an extremely weak version of “PSR” is required for Classical Theism. That is, there is at least one ultimately intelligible principle/object in the universe. This version concedes that there could be brute facts for many things, but at least one thing is ultimately intelligible. I believe Alexander Pruss formally proved this on his blog. The point is, in addition to saying that you can’t have a brute fact as a foundation for an intelligible object, you also cannot try to downplay your denial of PSR by saying that you only think some things are brute facts. The point is, to be an atheist, you have to concede that nothing in the universe is ultimately intelligible. Enter Hume’s Problem of Induction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Scott,


      Does "ultimately intelligible" refer to the existence of a thing? If so, then I think what this means is that only one thing whose existence is intelligible suffices for God.

      Which means either all things have an explanation for their existence or none have. Because atheism is the view that the existence of anything universally is groundless.

      If the existence of something were a brute fact, then where would that possibility of brute existence be grounded? Nowhere, not even God because that would make existence intelligible.

      Also of note is that this entails that atheism is basically the power of omnipotence without a grounding.

      Delete
    2. That is the point, kind of like St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof. It demonstrates that the stakes are all or nothing. Just as you cannot postulate a possible/necessary being, you cannot postulate some brute facts. Either all facts are brute, or none are just as God either necessarily exists or is a logical impossibility.

      Delete
    3. @Scott,


      Quote:"Either all facts are brute, or none are"

      Well, it depends on what you mean by all. If you mean all existential facts (existing things, the existence of anything) then yes, it is an all or nothing situation.

      But if you are talking about all facts, even those that aren't about existence (such as why does the Earth orbit the sun), then that is clearly not correct. The atheist is obliged to believe things can (and must) exist, continue to exist, cease to exist for no reason. He is not obliged to believe that everything else is also for no reason.

      Of course, given the rootless omnipotence this entails, it also means that non-existential brute facts are necessarily possible as well (cups flying in the air for no reason, any and all other possibilities that are brute and can happen) since, if God existed, He would be the cause of things happening matter-of-factly (the cup flying in the air without any contingent cause whatsoever being responsible is an example of God acting on the world in a way unique to Him because His causality is completely unlike the causality of creatures).

      But it doesn't entail that either everything is intelligible (the Earth spins around the sun because of the sun's gravitational influence) or nothing is (the Earth is flying around the sun for no reason at all).

      Delete
    4. Joe,

      The point I was making was that from the perspective of the debate on the cosmological argument, it is all or nothing. Of course parsimony would strongly indicate it is all or nothing as well (if God exists and can make everything intelligible, why postulate brute facts?). I think your example of the sun is not a good one. I agree that not all propositions require an explanation such as the Big Conjunctive Contingent Fact. While I would not say that the gravitational influence of the sun on the earth is not a substance of its own, I would say that it is a causal power of the sun that requires an explanation, and this cannot be a brute fact. That is like admitting that electrons having charge is a brute fact. The point is, not only must a thing’s existence be intelligible, but it’s form must also be intelligible.

      Delete
  6. Scott

    "The point is, to be an atheist, you have to concede that nothing in the universe is ultimately intelligible."

    That is simply not true. Unlike a classical theist, an atheist can hold to any version of the PSR, going from an extremely weak version to even a very strong version.
    An atheist can e.g. claim that there is a necessary cause of everything but this cause is not in any way personal, except if one stretches the word analogy so far it loses its meaning altogether.

    I have also some problems with this claim by Dr Feser

    "Similarly, make the fundamental laws into unintelligible brute facts, and they have no intelligibility to pass upward to higher-level laws"

    This seems obviously false. If brute facts exist at the fundamental level (and I am not claiming they do), there is no reaosn why they exist, but that doesn't mean that they are completely unintelligible. A brute fact is brute, so it can be anything. If the fundamental law "A leads to B " is a brute fact, then it is still true that A leads to B. Sure, it could have been the case that there was a brute fact that said A leads to nothing, or whatever, but no matter how small the chance is that a brute fcat leads to something intelligible, this chance is not zero, and to make as bold a claim as Feser does, it must be zero.

    In summary. An atheist doesn't have to concede there are any brute facts at all and even if there are, this does not have the consequences Feser claims it does.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Walter,

      Re: "That is simply not true. Unlike a classical theist, an atheist can hold to any version of the PSR, going from an extremely weak version to even a very strong version."

      In chapter 5 of Five Proofs, Feser argues that the PSR leads to God. Where does his proof go wrong in your opinion if the PSR is granted as true?

      Re: "If the fundamental law "A leads to B " is a brute fact, then it is still true that A leads to B."

      That may be true, but it doesn't follow from that that B is intelligible.

      Example:
      A = a prehistoric reptile walks into a swamp.
      B = the first human being walks out of a swamp.

      Suppose it is a brute fact that A leads to B. B's origins would be the brute fact, yet B's origins seem ultimately unintelligible.

      Delete
    2. Walter van den Acker

      A brute fact is, by definition, unintelligible. A partially intelligible brute fact is a logical contradiction.

      It is interesting that you say atheists can accept PSR when many of the most famous atheistic philosophers like Bertrand Russell openly reject it. Why the heavy cost of rejecting PSR if it does not lead to theism. Furthermore, the Rationalists, who explicitly formulated PSR, were theists.

      The point is, when you say A leads to B, you are either taking an Aristotelian view that says A, which has a power to cause B, causes B, or you are taking a Humean world view that says A, which has no inherent power, is followed by B. If A truly causes B, it must get its causal power from its nature in an underived way or from something else. The only thing that can have causal power by its very nature in an underived way is something that is its own sufficient reason, a necessary being. Furthermore, this being must have something like an intellect and will in order for the order of nature to not be a statistical miracle, that’s if you concede even the possibility of brute facts in the first place. You essentially are faced with Hume’s Problem of Induction because there are no objects with causal power to inductively determine their power. Therefore it is a miracle that B always follows A when you deny PSR.

      Delete
    3. "A brute fact is brute so it can be anything." That's the problem. Let brute facts in anywhere, and they undermine intelligibility everywhere, since there is in principle no way to distinguish brute from intelligible facts (that requires intelligibility, which we deny of brute facts.) What we think is intelligible, might actually be a brute fact masquerading as intelligible. That's Hume's point about induction: We've seen an apple fall from a tree 1,000 times in a row, but it might simply be a brute fact that it falls 1,000 times and maybe it won't fall the 1,001st time. It is only the presumption of intelligibility that allows us to conclude the metaphysical relationships involved in gravity.

      Delete
    4. Let brute facts in anywhere, and they undermine intelligibility everywhere, since there is in principle no way to distinguish brute from intelligible facts

      Right, and this is (in effect) part of Hume's position. According to him, there is indeed no reason B follows A, it just happens to follow A. This could be true of ANY AND EVERY fact B. The fact that we SEEM to see a reason for B following A in this particular B is a chimera, we are being fooled by mere appearances. Thus epistemically, there is no possible way to distinguish the D that "really does" follow from C because of some reason and the B that only seems to follow from A and is a mere brute fact with an odd way of seeming to have a sort of reason. The seemingness of the "reason" for B is fundamentally indistinguishable from some other case where the "reason" really is knowable as true. Hence there is NO POSSIBLE fact that can be established as other than brute.

      Excluding that one, of course. :-)

      Delete
    5. John

      In short: the full PSR leads to the necessity of reality and to a modal collapse that is incompatible with any type of theism that holds God had some sort of freedom, so it would actually disprove classical theism.
      Any weakened version of the PSR must at least acknowledge that the "necessary first state" has some contingent properties that have no explanation. A first state with unexplained contingent properties can take many "shapes", perhaps including some sort of personality, but not necessarily so.

      The point of the brute fact "A leads to B" is not that B is now automatically intelligible, but that, since brute facts are brute, they can have any content that is logically possible, so B can be intelligible. In fact everything resulting from A can be intelligible.

      Delete
    6. Scott

      If a horse popped into existence uncaused, it would still be a horse, so it would be able to do everything a horse can do.

      I know many atheists reject the PSR, but so what, many theists also reject classical theism.
      Atheism, not unlike theism, comes in various shapes and colours.

      As for your last reamrk, the point is that, if we allow for brute facts, there is no contradiction in A brute-factly having the "power" to produce B.

      Delete
    7. David

      The way to distinguish brute facts from intelligible facts is quite easy. A fact that is intelligible is not a brute fact.
      A red ball floating in the air with nothing at all supporting it would be a brute fact. If, however, we discovered that there was a nearly invisible nylon thread attached to it, the ball floating would be intelligible.

      And yes, that is an assumption. In reality we cannot prove that the thread really holds the ball. And yes, induction does not prove anything, we always have to make assumptions.
      But then, you cannot prove you aren't a brain in a vat either, so I guess you have to assume you are not.
      In the same way, we assume that the world is intelligible enough for us to make some sense of it. And so far, this has worked out fine.

      Delete
    8. Walter Van den Acker

      Follow the logical trajectory of your statement:

      In summary. An atheist doesn't have to concede there are any brute facts at all and even if there are, this does not have the consequences Feser claims it does.

      Regardless of your position... you do admit that there are consequences, right?

      Therefore, even your position admits that the reason why there is something rather than noting is in order to quest knowledge.

      Feser is attempting to say this...

      He is also attempting to say:

      Reason can transcend anything reason can formulate

      You have admitted in your own post that "reason" is not de-limited...so, you agree with him, i.e.(you admit brute facts don't exist at a fundamental level) BUT a brute fact leads to something intelligible, this chance is not zero, therefore you implicitly admit that there are no such things as brute facts.

      Delete
    9. The important question are, would we be reasonable to assume those things if PSR was false and how the content of our experience would be if such was the case.

      When we analyse this, we can know based on reasonable evidence that PSR is true. Can same be said in case of BIV ? No, because we simply lack any evidence for our being in such a scenario.

      In case of BIV the burden is on the one claiming its truth.

      Delete
    10. The way to distinguish brute facts from intelligible facts is quite easy. A fact that is intelligible is not a brute fact.
      A red ball floating in the air with nothing at all supporting it would be a brute fact. If, however, we discovered that there was a nearly invisible nylon thread attached to it, the ball floating would be intelligible


      Your thread is only the cause of the ball's suspension if the fact of that suspension needs a cause. Maybe it doesn't. Perhaps the ball and the thread are together simply brute facts.

      In any case, how does "ball suspended with nothing to support it" look different than "ball suspended via a cause unknown to us?" The search for unknown causes is the wellspring of science - Newton's came up with his theory of gravity only because he wouldn't accept planetary orbits as brute facts.

      Delete
    11. Walter Van den Acker

      “In the same way, we assume that the world is intelligible enough for us to make some sense of it. And so far, this has worked out fine.”

      But this is a practical solution to a problem of principle. It would be irrational to believe that I am a brain in a vat with only the shear possibility to go on. On the other hand, if reality really does have an unintelligible side, there does not appear any means (rule, principle, etc.) by which to reintroduce intelligibility anywhere else.

      There is a practical problem, however, but that follows from belief in brute fact…

      “A red ball floating in the air with nothing at all supporting it would be a brute fact. If, however, we discovered that there was a nearly invisible nylon thread attached to it, the ball floating would be intelligible.”

      Apart from shear accident, how would we ever discover the nylon thread? By your account we should assume that something for which we don’t yet have a causal explanation is a brute fact. What would incentivize us to search for hidden or invisible causes in the first place? Since science is the knowledge of causes, the assumption that anything without an obvious cause is a brute fact would likely reduce science to little more that stating the obvious - maybe also measuring the obvious. All scientific discoveries would be shear accidents, since to look for causes (i.e. a scientific “method”) when you have no reason to assume one exists is irrational.

      Delete
    12. @Walter van den Acker

      But if a horse popped into existence, there would be no grounding for its existence. And in that case, there would be no reason to not expect the horse to pop out of existence. Furthermore, without any grounding in an ultimate intelligibility, there is no reason to suppose that the “horse” has any horse powers. It could just as easily be a taxidermed horse moving around like a living horse, unintelligibly, of course. The fact that we never experience “living” taxidermed horses or horses popping out of existence is overwhelming evidence to reject brute facts.

      Delete
    13. Quite a lot here, so i'll try to be brief.

      Red

      Yes, we would be reasonable to assume those things is PSR were false because we have reasonable evidence that there are causes for lots of things. I am not with Hume on this because I believe in real causal relations.

      David

      Yes, the thread is only the cause of the fact of the suspension if that fact needs a cause and a partial denial of the PSR doesn't entail that suspension doesn't have a cause.

      tpoynor

      We discover the thread by looking for it and we look for it because we suppose the suspension of the ball probably has a cause.
      There is no contradiction in denying that everything has a cause while confirming that most things do have causes. For one: the latter only involves ordinary causes while the PSR entails extraordinary causes. There is nothing irrational about believing in ordinary causes while rejecting (or at least witholding judgment on) extraordinary causes.

      Scott

      Yes, the horse analogy is not meant to show that horses popping into existence are a real possibility. the anaolgy is simply meant to show that a brute fact that has all the causal powers required is not a contradiction. So, yes, it could be a taxidermed horse but the point is, it could be a real horse too. And the horse in my analogy is a real horse, with real horse powers. How do I know this? Because it's my analogy.

      Delete
    14. @WVDA
      Yes, we would be reasonable to assume those things is PSR were false because we have reasonable evidence that there are causes for lots of things. I am not with Hume on this because I believe in real causal relations.

      Right, but such is not shown to be the case if psr was false. Again if PSR was false our experience would contain a lot of brute facts.Our experience in actual world is surely not like that.

      Delete
    15. Walter: the anaolgy is simply meant to show that a brute fact that has all the causal powers required is not a contradiction.

      But it’s not an analogy, and it doesn’t show this.

      Considering an older formulation of what we know today as the PSR, “ex nihilo nihil fit,” it is easier to see that any thing popping into existence uncaused (as in your scenario) clearly violates the principle of contradiction.


      Nothing in your scenario differentiates the horse popping into existence uncaused from it being, say, teleported from elsewhere.
      Until you make that differentiation in the scenario it doesn’t count as an example of uncaused existence; and as soon as you do, the scenario no longer shows a brute fact.

      Delete
    16. Yes, the thread is only the cause of the fact of the suspension if that fact needs a cause and a partial denial of the PSR doesn't entail that suspension doesn't have a cause.

      The "partial denial of the PSR" is entirely arbitrary. The PSR is denied when it leads to conclusions the philosopher does not prefer (i.e. God as first cause), but invoked when he needs it to justify science. Thus modern philosophy discovers the will-to-power as its fundamental principle: The philosopher picks his principles and is consistent with them only to the extent he needs them to get where he wants to go.

      Delete
    17. I think what most users here are ultimately getting at is the question of What justifies us, when we suppose that suspension of ball probably has a cause for example, why such a supposition is reasonable to hold rather than not? given PSR is false. Do we somehow know a priori that such probability is very high or at least higher than its lacking a cause?

      Delete
    18. Red

      Our experience might contain a lot of brute facts, or only a few brute facts or no brute facts at all, depending on which world we are in.

      David

      I do make the differentiation because I say that the horse popped into existence from nothing and did not teleport from somewhere else. If ex nihilo nihil fit then brute facts that pop into existence are logically impossible but eternal brute facts would not be impossible.

      David

      No, it is not entirely arbitrary. It is simply open to the possibility that when it is turns out to be impossible to find a reason for something, maybe there is no reason for something, that's all.
      We have good reason to think that lots of things have causes, yet, if we want to avoid an infinite regress we cannot hold that everything has a cause. So, virtually everybody partially denies the "principle of sufficient cause", yet this doesn't seem to lead to a lot of problems.
      So why would a partial denial of the PSR lead to insurmountable problems?

      Delete
    19. Our experience might contain a lot of brute facts, or only a few brute facts or no brute facts at all, depending on which world we are in.

      Right but as I've argued denying PSR has conclusion that our experience would contain a lot of brute facts, which is what you are supposed to refute.

      Why do you think it would not be problematic?

      Delete
    20. The ONLY difference between an atheist and a theist is the letter a...

      Delete
    21. Red

      I have argued that denying the PSR may result in experiencing a lot of , a few or no brute facts at all, depending on which (possible ) world we are in.
      If you want to argue that our experience would necessarily contain a lot of brute facts, then you must argue against the possibility of a world in which the PSR is false and in which we experience only a very few brute facts or not at all.
      AFAICT, a denail of the PSR does not preclude such a world. It may means such a world is unlikely, but that's not enough to justify your claim.



      Philip

      Actually the difference between "an atheist" and "a theist" is "an".
      For the rest, I totally agree with you.

      Delete
    22. Walter,

      The point isn’t how many brute facts there are. The point is how “foundational” those brute facts are. An atheist must posit a foundational brute fact to get rid of God. If the Grand Unified Theory of physics is one brute fact, then fine. But then the atheist needs to explain why this Grand Unified Theory never drastically changes. Why does the universe not rip apart at any given second? You could appear to dumb luck, but every second the universe goes on in the same way is an empirical datapoint (actually as many data points as there are objects times moments for possible change in the whole universe) in favor of PSR. This is a probabilistic argument that approaches inconceivably close to 1 as the universe continues to exist.

      How would you respond to this “no miracles” argument?

      Delete
    23. Right, as I said previously such a world is an impossibility because of literally infinite amount of brute facts that are possible at each moment we experience.

      So if we want to replace PSR with a principle that brute facts might be sometimes possible but still improbable enough that we won't experience.

      Delete
    24. And also such a world being unlikely is good enough to make denial of PSR unreasonable, in context of what is previously said here.

      Delete
    25. Scott

      Every second the universe goes on the same way is an empirical datapoint in favour of the fact that we live in a universe that is the result of an event that somehow explains all other events in the universe. That in and out of itself does not entail that the initial event has an explanation any more than the fact that the initial condition caused eveything else means that it must have a cause.

      I am not sure what you mean by a no miracles argument, because if the PSR is true and God exists we can never be sure that when we observe a ball A hitting ball B and B starts moving, it actually isn't God miraculously stopping ball A and moving ball B.

      BTW, an atheist does not "have to" deny any variety of the PSR at all.
      I, for one, do not care too much about the PSR being true or false. It has no bearing on my personal view.

      Red

      You haven't proved that such a world is a impossibility. At best you have argued that it is extremely unlikely, but that is not the same.

      Such a world being unlikely but not impossible is good enough to at least doubt the PSR, beccause if the PSR is true it is necessarily true, hence there should not be any possible world in which it isn't true.



      Delete
    26. The point isn’t how many brute facts there are. The point is how “foundational” those brute facts are.

      BRUTE FACT PROPOSITION NUMBER 1: Numbers cannot lie. (TRUE OR FALSE)

      Delete
    27. We aren't assessing the likelihood of a possible world where PSR is true or it is false, we are assuming if PSR is necessarily false then how likely is for world of our experience to contain brute facts, It is about that I am arguing both that is logically impossible for to contain none and it being highly unlikely being good enough reason to take denial of PSR as unreasonable.

      Delete
    28. Walter,

      I see your thinking now. You are thinking that some initial conditions were set at the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, and those initial conditions may have been a brute fact. Therefore, the universe can continue to exist based on its original initial conditions and there is no more “bruteness”. The problem with this logic is that you are appealing to an accidentally ordered causal series and not an essentially ordered causal series. This would be a good refutation if William Paley’s Watchmaker argument, but it does not refute Aquinas’ 5th Way and similar arguments. The point is, either the laws of nature, here and now, are brute or necessary. If they are brute, then they are subject to change and the atheist must refute the “no miracles” argument. Why DON’T the laws of nature ever change in an unpredictable way if there very existence is unintelligible (and thus unpredictable)? If the laws of nature are necessary, they are either necessary by their very nature, or they are necessary because of an external cause. If they are necessary by an external cause, then that external cause must also be explained in a similar way. That regress of causes (the thrust will argue) will necessarily terminate in something that is its own sufficient reason, i.e. God. For that reason, the laws of nature cannot be their own sufficient reason because they are the types of things (contingent and finite) that cannot possibly be their own sufficient reason for existing.

      I will grant you that PSR does not refute occasionalism. For that you would need further argumentation. But once you unpack the natural theology that PSR supports, I would say that occasionalism is not tenable because it is tantamount to pantheism, which is not supported by PSR.

      Delete
    29. Philip Rand,

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. Are you asking if numbers can lie? Numbers have no causal power since they are abstractions. Since they have no causal power, they cannot have an intellect or communicative faculties. Therefore numbers can neither tell the truth or lie. They are causally inert.

      Delete
    30. Scott

      It doesn't follow from "the laws of nature are brute" that they can change. I don't think you understand my horse analogy. A horse that has all its horse-properties due to a brute fact is still a horse. Likewise, a "brute" law of nature can have the form A leads to B leads to C etc. Sure, the rsult of such a law is change, but the law itself does not change. It is brute because its non-existence does not lead to a contradiction, and because there could have been other laws.
      But there is no contradiction in a possible world that is "governed" by a brute law that is unchanging.
      You are also conflating "causes" with "reasons". A regress of causes ends in something that is not caused. An (eternal) brute fact is not caused, so it is a candidate for a first uncaused cause unless the existence of nothing at all is logically impossible.

      Red

      We are assessing the likelihood of a possible world in which the PSR is false and we don't experience any brute fact. A world with only one initial brute fact could be such a world. Do you think that the fact that we don't experience an uncaused cause means that there probably isn't an uncaused cause?

      Delete
    31. Scott Lynch

      There exist an auditorium with chairs and people.

      The people are asked to sit down.

      At the end of this process there is still people standing.

      Therefore:

      Number of People > Number of chairs

      TRUE or FALSE?

      Delete
    32. Well I did address this particular point in our discussion in previous thread, This won't work because such initial fact has no relevance to other brute fact , they don't depend on its powers and capacities in some way, that is the whole point of brute facts.
      So it has no impact on likelihood of brute facts occurring within our experience.
      Furthermore then its also extremely likely that initial facts contain our experience.

      Do you think that the fact that we don't experience an uncaused cause means that there probably isn't an uncaused cause?

      Well if I had a good reason to think I would most probably experience an uncaused cause if one were present then I would say Yes, but I don't.

      Delete
    33. Walter,

      It does follow by definition that a brute fact can change. By definition, a brute fact is not necessary. By definition, a brute fact is contingent. If it is not contingent, it is necessary and therefore no longer a brute fact. Now it doesn’t follow that a brute fact MUST change at any given moment. All that follows is that a brute fact CAN change at any given moment. Any probability greater than zero will do. But the problem is, as the number of instances for possible change approaches infinity, the chances that a brute fact will always obtain approaches zero. Therefore, the atheist must answer the “no miracles” argument. So far it seems your reply has been to suggest that brute facts might be necessary, which is a logical contradiction. Are you in fact suggesting this?

      Delete
    34. Scott

      You see your statement:
      Numbers have no causal power since they are abstractions. Since they have no causal power, they cannot have an intellect or communicative faculties.

      Must be false, (i.e. it is not Biblical)... otherwise Paul would not have referred to:

      the Fullness of the Gentiles

      Delete
    35. And Scott...

      Since you state:
      Any probability greater than zero will do.

      Then you accept: Numbers do not lie.

      Delete
    36. Scott

      By definition, a brute fact is not necessary, which means there is a possible world in which it doesn't exist and there is a possible world in which another brute fact exists. It does not follow that it can change at any given moment.
      It may be that a concrete entity that is a brute fact can change at any given moment, but this is descibed by the law "a contingent concrete entity can change at evrery given moment", which is an unchanging law. if it wasn't there could be a possible world in which the contingent entity could not change, so no matter how you look at it, you are wrong.
      Moreover, virtually nobody who denies the PSR would claim that there are no laws of logic that are "necessary", what they do deny is that there are necessary concrete entities.

      Red

      An initial fact is initial, so it is not unlikely that there is only one and since initial facts in our temporal universe happened a long time ago, it is not extremely likely that we experience initial facts. In fact, it is pretty unlikely.

      If the possibility of an uncaused cause doesn't mean we are likely to experience one, why would the possibility that this first cause is unexplained mean we would suddenly be extremely likely to experience it?

      I think it's time to agree to disagree once again, so I won't be replying anymore.

      Thank you both for the interesting discussion.

      Delete
    37. Walter,

      I think it is you, not Scott, that doesn’t understand your horse analogy. A “horse that has all its horse-properties due to a brute fact” is not still a horse but a contradiction.

      A horse is a horse by cause of its essential nature. Absent material cause, absent formal cause, absent efficient cause, and absent final cause I’m not sure you have anything at all, but you certainly do not have a substance such as a “real horse”.

      So when you assert a real horse that popped into existence uncaused, as your scenario did, you are stating a contradiction. I think you understand this for you replied to me: ”If ex nihilo nihil fit then brute facts that pop into existence are logically impossible” (Not only logically impossible, by the way!)

      but eternal brute facts would not be impossible.

      Just asserting this is not enough, and it was in any case not the scenario you gave. A “real horse” could not be your eternal brute fact. I do not see how you can give us an eternal brute fact such that it would have an essential nature and yet have no causes.

      And that is because, finally, your assertions are self-contradicting as your debate with Scott Lynch shows. To assert brute facts you must deny PSR.

      But there is no contradiction in a possible world that is "governed" by a brute law that is unchanging.

      The contradiction you are missing is that, having given us a horse or whatever from eternity for no reason (ie, having denied the PSR), you cannot demand reasons from Scott Lynch or anywhere else that your “unchanging” “brute law” changes. It just does for no reason.

      Delete
    38. An initial fact is initial, so it is not unlikely that there is only one and since initial facts in our temporal universe happened a long time ago, it is not extremely likely that we experience initial facts. In fact, it is pretty unlikely.

      This seems to take somewhat different viewpoint from your discussion here.

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-latest-on-five-proofs.html?showComment=1537335510394#c5765906573906068747

      Lets go through this argument again, if brute contingent facts are possible at initial state then indeed a large amount of them are possible, there is no reason to think such an amount isn't infinity, therefor it is extremely likely then that among those initial things there are experiencers.
      The fact that we don't have such bizarre experience is only more pro-psr evidence.

      And all this doesn't even account for the fact that this whole initial/non-initial seems like a distinction without a difference.

      If the possibility of an uncaused cause doesn't mean we are likely to experience one, why would the possibility that this first cause is unexplained mean we would suddenly be extremely likely to experience it?

      Because our experience isn't a necessary fact. Given psr it can't be brute and it can't be initial.

      And if this is your last cmnt in this thread then goodbye and thank you too.

      Delete
    39. David,

      Excellent point. It seems like Walter is arguing with possible worlds logic where once a possible world is created, it is “locked in” so to speak and cannot possibly change on pain of contradiction. It is a lot of fancy language for saying that the brute facts that govern this universe are in fact necessary and cannot possibly change (because this is the possible world we live in). But this possible worlds logic just begs the question against a Scholastic philosopher who would say that there are no “possible worlds” in that sense. There is only this one actual world (the totality of existence) that is actual in some ways and potential in others. It is also necessary in some ways and contingent on others. Any necessary aspect of this world must be necessary by nature or by definition. If it is not necessary by nature or definition, it must appeal to something that is necessary in this way. Any contingent thing in our universe must appeal to something necessary for its existence, or it must make recourse to a brute fact. But since brute facts are really just a refusal to explain a contingent reality, and not a rejection of contingent reality, then there is no reason to say that a contingent reality must exist in a certain way.


      Walter,

      Based off of previous conversations with you before (especially with the possible worlds language), you are coming off to me as a rationalist who rejects PSR. This isn’t meant as an insult. I’m just trying to understand your position. Wouldn’t you say that, by definition, something that cannot possibly change is necessary? If something is necessary, how can it be contingent and in need of an appeal to a brute fact? Or are you saying that necessary things themselves like the classical theistic conception of God are brute facts? Or are you saying that contingent things do not require causes to be fully explained?

      Delete
    40. So Scott, how does the Principle of Sufficient Reason work on the only two possible propositions you have come up with that ground reality?

      The two options you have come up with:

      1/ Any contingent thing in our universe must appeal to something necessary for its existence.

      2/ Any contingent thing in our universe must appeal to brute fact for its existence.

      So, why is proposition 1/ correct and proposition 2/ incorrect? ,i.e. what gives is the sufficient reason?

      I realise you won't respond (because in brute fact terms you can't)… because both your points say the same thing!!!!!

      Delete
    41. Philip,

      As I have been saying, all empirical evidence goes against proposition 2. Every second you don’t see a horse popping into existence is a datapoint for a possible brute fact not obtaining, and every second the universe continues to exist is a datapoint for an alleged brute fact that could fail to obtain not failing. Essentially, the world is too orderly for brute facts (hence no “miracles”). If someone tells you that Santa Claus might give you presents on Christmas, but no one has ever received presents from Santa Claus on Christmas, then why believe that Santa Claus exists?

      Delete
    42. Scott

      Just a quick answer to your question. I am not rejecting the PSR. Whether the PSR is true or not is completely irrelevant for my own (non-theistic) wordlview.
      I am saying that, since the classical theistic concepts of God cannot be proven to be true, it's much safer to consider them brute facts, at least until we have proof that there is a contradiction in nothing at all existing.
      If I am not mistaken, this is more or less Richard Swinburne's position.

      Delete
    43. Scott

      OK, so...
      Every second you don’t see a horse popping into existence is a datapoint for a possible brute fact.

      What would be the PSR for:

      Every second you don’t see a horse popping into existence is a data-point for an inaccessible brute fact.

      Delete
    44. Walter,

      Well that is where we would have to continue the discussion another day. For most Scholastic philosophers would say that Classical Theism logically follows from PSR (i.e. we can have a metaphysical demonstration from first principles).

      Delete
    45. Walter’s problem is he is trying to have his cake and eat it.

      One cannot rationally deny or doubt the PSR without implicitly affirming it; a reason is needed to rationally deny or doubt the PSR; and providing such a reason admits the validity of the principle.

      Walter claims indifference, and then gives us his reasons for considering brute facts. Well there are no brute facts till you deny the PSR.

      He could be irrationally denying the PSR I suppose. I’d have to ask him then: is that any reason to follow you in your madness?

      Delete
    46. David Ezemba

      You state:One cannot rationally deny or doubt the PSR without implicitly affirming it;

      But, this simply confirms that PSR is only a convention.

      Delete
    47. This is why you call PSR denial madness...

      Delete
    48. ”But, this simply confirms that PSR is only a convention.

      I don’t know what you mean by this. The PSR is so obviously evident I was pointing out that accepting brute facts is a self-defeating position. I call PSR denial madness because it is irrational.

      Delete
    49. David

      The PSR is so obviously evident

      Yes, you therefore admit that it is simply a mode of description; this creates the impression of a foreseeable logical order to the world. This is the convention that both Theists and Atheists share.

      Delete
    50. David

      Here is a trivial example using PSR:

      Why does the winner of a sprint race always cross the finishing line first?

      ANSWER: It's the convention.

      Delete
    51. One could also say: It's a brute fact.

      Delete
    52. Phillip,

      That is not an example of a brute fact. The winner of the race always finishes first because the people who made the rules of the race said so. Apart from minds with intentionality, there are no races at all or winners of races.

      A brute fact would be if the winner of the race won the race by crossing the finish line first without ever moving a muscle. For example, if he just slid from the start line to the finish line without any cause.

      Delete
    53. No, I still don’t get it.

      ANSWER: It's the convention.

      Okay, I don’t know how this “uses” PSR. That the answer to this, or any, particular question is “It’s convention” does not make the PSR only a convention.

      One could also say: It's a brute fact.

      No, one couldn’t say this. If it was a brute fact the answer in your example must needs be: There’s no reason. “It’s the convention,” is still a reason even if in some way it doesn’t satisfy you.

      Delete
    54. Scott

      Your position concerning PSR is defeated with this statement of yours:

      A brute fact would be if the winner of the race won the race by crossing the finish line first without ever moving a muscle

      PSR convention: The chap crossed the finishing line first.

      Winners of sprint races(no matter how they achieve it) always cross the finishing line first... that is a brute fact.

      Delete
    55. David

      There’s no reason. “It’s the convention,” is still a reason even if in some way it doesn’t satisfy you.

      Yes, you are correct... it is still a reason... IT IS THE CONVENTION TO STATE A REASON, I.E. A BRUTE FACT!!!!!

      Delete
    56. And Scott....

      This statement of yours is not saying what you think:

      Apart from minds with intentionality, there are no races at all or winners of races.

      Winners of races IS intentionality!!!!!

      If intentionality did not exist; winners would not exist... IT'S A BRUTE FACT!!!!!!

      Delete
    57. Scott & Houdini

      It is interesting that your answers to:

      Why does the winner of a sprint race always cross the finishing line first?

      Scott: the reason is the rules
      Houdini: there is no reason

      Interesting, whey you compare your answers isn't it?

      Therefore, it would appear when we concatenate your answers to:

      Why does the winner of a sprint race always cross the finishing line first?

      You end up with: A BRUTE FACT.

      Delete
    58. David

      I may have called you Houdini in the above posts... if I have I apologise for the mistake...replace Houdini with David.

      Delete
    59. Philip Rand

      You have badly mis-stated my position.

      I agree with Scott Lynch that your given example is not an example of a brute fact. This is why I wrote: “No, one couldn’t say this,” after quoting you saying, ”One could also say: it’s a brute fact.”

      If (mark it: * IF *) your example had shown a brute fact, then your answer to the question “why?” would necessarily be: “there’s no reason.” As it is not such an example here is your comparison of Scott Lynch’s answer with mine, but corrected:

      Scott: the reason is the rules
      Houdini: it’s the convention



      What you’ve written in your post of September 29, 10.44PM is just broken and stupid. If this was an honest mistake on your part I can only advise you take more care in reading others’ responses. I don’t mind being mistaken for Houdini so much but do not mis-state what I have said in order to jerry-rig a provably false conclusion.

      Delete
    60. You see Scott... You have a big problem..

      In another post you state:
      The only thing that can actualize a potential is an uncaused cause.

      The problem for you is this... the above statement in structure is no different to:

      The winner of a sprint race always cross the finishing line first.

      We ask the question:
      Why is the winner of a sprint race always cross the finishing line first?
      Your answer: Because it is the rule.

      So, then we ask:
      Why is the only thing that can actualize a potential an uncaused cause?
      To be consistent you must answer:
      Because it is the rule.

      Delete
    61. Scott

      The rule is the brute fact.

      Now, if we apply PSR to the rule we must apply the PSR rule to the rule.

      PSR is a rule; which requires you to formulate a theory of the PSR rule… which is paradoxically a rule itself!

      Now, there does exist a cheap and cheerful metaphysical answer to this...but, it still suffers from the same problem...

      HOWEVER it would satisfy you...despite it being a metaphysical illusion...

      Delete
    62. David

      Yes, correct David...

      The rule IS the convention.

      Delete
  7. There is a lot of the Humean nonsense going around: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/10/how-david-hume-helped-me-solve-my-midlife-crisis/403195/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. dover_beach

      Charles Ives wrote a piece of music called:
      The Unanswered Question. It is based on the poem Dover Beach.

      If you appreciate the poem; you will appreciate the music.

      Delete
    2. Humean nonsense is right. I roll my eyes every time this silly a-glass-breaking-after-a-rock-fell-on-it-doesn't-necessarily-mean-the-rock-caused-the-glass-to-break is simply nuts. No wonder they can't see the existence of God; they can't even see that a rock caused the glass to break. To top it off, they claim to be lovers of science.


      The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.

      Delete
    3. Bill

      Even demons believe in God...

      Delete
  8. Prof Feser

    I thought you were an Aristotelian specialist?

    "This is a little like saying that a living man is like a dead man, except for being living."

    From an Aristotelian perspective the above statement of yours would be classed as Unqualified Change.

    Fact is, Blackburn has given you what you want...and yet you cannot observe it!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "This is a little like saying that a living man is like a dead man, except for being living."

      MEANING: living man > dead man

      MORAL: NUMBERS ARE NOT CAUSUALLY INERT.

      Delete
    2. Using the type of science you adhere;

      Living man exists in 5-dimensions
      Dead man exists in 4-dimensions

      Delete
    3. Humeans like Blackburn cannot accept the “all” without becoming Scholastic theists

      The above statement is incorrect. An empiricist just needs to follow the outline offered by J S Mill, i.e. Mill's Method outlined in his book A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive.

      In this book can be found the explanation why the use of the universal quantifier all is incorrect.

      Delete
  9. The mistake in this reply is that, even though it discusses Hume it doesn't discuss one of the traditional objection attributed to him that if there are infinite contingent beings each explaining some other then nothing is left unexplained. This would allow atheist/naturalist like Blackburn to reject necessary divine first cause while at the same time accepting full PSR.

    So a lot of what is said here about rejecting PSR would not follow.

    Of course this sort of principle might be wrong, there does seem to be some good reasons to think that, its discussed in Five proofs too but point is then the atheist is wrong for some other reason , not necessarily by rejecting PSR, which is as the impression I get from this review , Atheist must do.

    or maybe its not discussed because Blackburn doesn't seem to bring this up but still its relevant where the question of drawing the line is concerned.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sort of objection is addressed in every book Feser has written which discusses cosmological arguments for God's existence. It isn't mentioned in the reply replies to reviews in publications like the Times Literary Supplement have to be brief.

      But yes, to say that the atheist needs to reject PSR is a shorthand which presupposes that other material assumptions of the argument for God's existence are not rejected instead. Someone could try to reject PSR but deny that it implies God's existence.

      Delete
    2. Wow, really should have read that post over. Corrections:

      It isn't mentioned in the reply because replies to reviews in publications like the Times Literary Supplement have to be brief.

      Someone could try to acceptPSR but deny that it implies God's existence.

      Delete
    3. Greg

      Someone could try to accept PSR but deny that it implies God's existence.

      Even if one accepts PSR; PSR is simply a convention that is the initial rung of a Metaphysical System.

      It this convention that provides the grounding of any Metaphysics, no matter how sophisticated.

      If someone said to me... "I have convinced myself that through metaphysics that God exists..."

      I wouldn't understand him... I would come away from the conversation thinking... That chap is suffering from the illusion of Metaphysics...

      Delete
  10. Well, my letter on Simon Blackburn's review of Five Proofs has also just been published in the TLS of 21st September. There's no link, but here's my text. Please excuse the length!

    "Simon Blackburn is an academic philosopher, that is, a person whose business it is to think about the most general features of reality, knowledge and ethics, among other things. Such thinking will necessarily require the use of 'highly abstract terms', although Blackburn seems to have forgotten this fact in his criticism of Edward Feser's Five Proofs of the Existence of God. That Feser, also an academic philosopher, has indeed employed these abstract terms, as he must, in his arguments for the existence of God, is therefore no surprise. Whether or not we are ultimately convinced by these arguments, we can at least enjoy and learn from Feser's complex, profound, rigorous and deeply fascinating book, a serious challenge to a largely secular and empirical culture. And yet Blackburn, clearly unable to put aside his atheist prejudices for the space of a short review, insults the intelligence of TLS readers by engaging in anti-Catholic rhetoric and personal smears against Feser, while lazily trotting out the standard objections to Feser's project from the likes of Hume and Kant, philosophers whose arguments, expressed in their own very highly abstact terms, Feser is energetic in trying to dissect and dismantle!

    "Unwilling to engage with either the substance or the form of Feser's arguments, Blackburn left me, an average TLS reader keen to find intellectual stimulation in your pages, feeling rather depressed at his lack of intellectual curiosity. In 2018 it really isn't good enough to shout 'scholastic!' at ideas you don't like, or are afraid of, in the hope that they will just go away. Is the TLS now struggling to find reviewers who are capable of reviewing serious books in a serious way?"

    Andreas Smith

    ReplyDelete
  11. I agree with Dr Feser's response. The wit cannot disguise the fact that it was a very poor review.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Its always amusing to see academics like Blackburn so thoroughly clowned. It makes you wonder why these men took an interest in philosophy in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Surprised to see Joe Biden reviewing one of Feser's books.

    ReplyDelete
  14. With Hume it became too simple to deny stars, the moon, space time and me. So to deny God was a cinch. The trouble is as Thomas Reid noted that Hume's assumptions about human beings amount to making humans into puppets.

    Besides that Steven Dutch went into the problems with Hume in even more detail

    ReplyDelete
  15. I seriously cannot believe this [Blackburn's commentary] came from an academic philosopher. The gratuitous, question-beginning, virtue-signalling references to abortion, gay sex, etc., were straight out of the Sophist's playbook.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arguing in that manner loads the uninformed audience in his favor. If he can paint the bigotry label on the likes of Feser, his fatuous arguments will appear more persuasive.

      To any intelligent person, Blackburn is merely waiving a flag which says, "I'm too stupid to lock horns with Feser, so ad hominems will have to do."

      Delete
  16. This reply is just devastating to Blackburn in my view. It's very surprising (well, perhaps it isn't) to see an academic philosopher of Blackburn's reputation produce such a poor, question-begging criticism of traditional theistic arguments.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I read the article, now I have a question.

    Was it worth dignifying Blackburn and his views with a response?

    Then again, I thoroughly enjoyed the response.

    ReplyDelete
  18. What is Wrong with the WorldSeptember 21, 2018 at 8:34 PM

    Hey Ed, Zippy Catholic has died.
    Sad day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh God! Eternal Rest grant to him O Lord and Perpetual Light Shine upon him.

      He and I used to argue way back in the day. He was a worthy foe. I can give no higher praise then that. Rest in peace Zippy. By Grace of God next we meet we won't have to argue ever again.

      Delete
    2. Rest in peace, Zippy Catholic ;-(

      Delete
  19. Interested Reader: So, tell me about this book on the proofs of God's existence.
    Simon Blackburn: Hume says books like this shouldn't even be written.
    IR: Well, I would imagine a philosophy professor writing a book of this kind would engage with Hume's arguments. Does he?
    SB: I'm not telling you. The author's a Roman Catholic, by the way.
    IR: Why is that relevant?
    SB: Because *I*, sir, am *not* a Roman Catholic.
    IR: Okaaaaay. I understand the book has five main arguments. Could you maybe give me a flavour of it by, idk, summarising one of them and addressing its weaknesses?
    SB: No, I'll just precis all five in a single sentence. I've got other fish to fry here?
    IR: Such as?
    SB: Well wouldn't you like to know *my* opinions on homosexuality, birth control and abortion?
    IR: Not really (sotto voce: though something tells me I'm going to hear them anyway), but if you want to discuss moral issues, hasn't the author also published something about capital punishment lately.
    SB: What? You expect me to read *two* of this bigot's books?
    IR: Quite frankly, I'd settle for some evidence that you've read even one ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Blackburn was the wrong choice to review Feser's book. If you accept the Kantian dismissal of classical theological arguments as flawed in principle because they exceed the legitimate bounds of human reason, then any defense of them is rightly dismissed out of hand, which is more or less what Blackburn does. So he is simply being true to his own principles by not providing detailed individual responses to the five ways Feser presents. Blackburn's review could have been one sentence: "Arguments of the type Feser presents necessarily violate the bounds of human reason, so don't waste your time with them."

      The mistake was the editor's, not Blackburn's. Don't send a teetotaler to review a book defending the virtues of the varieties of whiskey.

      Delete
    2. If you accept the Kantian dismissal of classical theological arguments as flawed in principle...Don't send a teetotaler to review a book defending the virtues of the varieties of whiskey.

      Fair enough. But one of the most perverse goofinesses perpetrated by modern philosophers is the refusal to mock Kant out of the club for his ridiculous "antinomies" and the absolutely awful arguments he gave to support his thesis that such matters as the proof (for or against) existence of God exceed the bounds of human reason. While, mind you, at the same time, virtually all of those same philosophers are not, themselves, Kantians in any true sense. So, while they on the one hand reject Kant's theories and conclusions, they refuse to acknowledge that his arguments were manure, and (typically) make use of those self-same arguments to reject classical theism even while they move on to other philosophies because they can't stand Kant's results. Talk about lack of integrity.

      Delete
    3. I like Kant a lot and I think his questions were good most people did not accept his answers. That left room for immediate non intuitive knowledge of Fries and Leonard Nelson. Hegel answered in a different way. But even Reid accepted the old world view that our mind is form without matter was not really the best approach. The questions brought up by Descartes,and Berkeley he did not really answer except to say that common sense shows our we our we do have knowledge of the objective world. It really was left to later people like Hegel and Nelson to answer the dilemma posed by the people from Descartes until Hume.

      Delete
  20. People are atheists because they rather have a relationship with sin than a relationship with God. Always. No exceptions. Even the cases when the atheist is betrayed and scorned by an evil group of Christians, there are always cases where a Christian was treated even worse and grew in their faith.

    ReplyDelete
  21. If you accept the Kantian dismissal of classical theological arguments as flawed in principle because they exceed the legitimate bounds of human reason, then any defense of them is rightly dismissed out of hand, which is more or less what Blackburn does.

    Kant offers both arguments for his epistemic positions (which, incidentally virtually no modern anti-realist accepts) and criticisms of natural theology. Blackburn defends implausible positions on the epistemology of modality and ethics because of his prior commitment to naturalism (and a lazy variant naturalism that would disgrace hardworking naturalists like D.M. Armstrong or Quentin Smith) - hence he can hardly appeal to this epistemological positions to defend naturalism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kant's antinomies are pure hogwash, except where they are even worse than that. By and large they would not escape sophomore phil. class without significant censure, and certainly not treated as viable for a graduate level paper. Why professional philosophers treat that stuff as amounting to real philosophy, at this point, is the REAL "what is beyond the legitimate bounds of human reason", because it is without reason.

      Delete
    2. I wasn't not of the impression that any of Kant's specific criticisms of natural theological arguments were taken seriously any more aside from claim about Existence not being a first-order property (which Kant got from Hume and Gassendi anyway). The point is that Kant offers arguments as to why said arguments allegedly fail and why his epistemology and ontology are correct - he doesn't just assert that metaphysical questions like God, free will and the soul are beyond the human capacity to comprehend.

      Blackburn on the other hand just asserts a crude 'naturalised' epistemology on the grounds that were it false then non-naturalists positions might be true. Against Kant one can argue; against Blackburn there is not much one can say, since his entire project is question-begging.

      Delete
  22. Feser is not only brilliant, but he learnt me a new word.

    ReplyDelete
  23. There seems from my point of view be a clear and glaringly obvious error in Blackburn's reasoning, which i think Feser does only indirectly touches:

    https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/enlightened-thinking-atheism-god/

    "Or if we prefer, it throws us into Hume’s arms since we cannot infer a single point of politics or morality from the whole exercise. Even if we were to follow Feser up into his timeless, sunless realms, we could not come back with any luggage that we had not first introduced ourselves."

    That is false and wrong.

    If one after some intelectual reflection concludes that there is domething/someone which is "immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, omnipotent, fully good, intelligent, and omniscient", then there is based on the additional premises:

    Some actions are ethically wrong. AND
    One shall strive to avoid such actions. AND
    Humans sometimes err in identifying what is wrong.

    one absolute logical conclusion:

    One should be ready to closely listen to any advice such a being might have regarding what is wrong; because while as a human one is in risk of erring regarding right/wrong, such being will never err ("fully good, intelligent, and omniscient") or deliberately deceive one; hence, the advice of such being might help reducing the chance for violation of premise 2.

    Hence, after a journey with Dr. Feser one comes back minimally with the luggage, that one would be ready to closely listen to the advice of such being, if it ever offered some advice and one could be reasonably safe that it is advice from that being.

    So one would - if one were logically consistent, convinced that there is something like wrong/right and also be willing to avoid committing ethically wrong actions - end up with a willingness to submit to supreme beings's will (*).

    (* though this might be the only luggage, if one concludes that one is unable to know what the supreme being's will is; but the willingness to listen/submit would still be relevant - cause the supreme being being omnipotent might certainly one day arrange that one day one against all odds gets a glimpse into what the supreme being wants one to do or not do; so the willingness is not irrelevant)

    ReplyDelete
  24. The academic establishment of golf drunks promotes only the rent boys of completely refuted views. It's a scam, which is why they're never going to allow any cross-examination of basic assumptions, but merely repeat the same glib garbage decade after decade. They're not interested in metatheoretic argumentation---just the continued advertising campaign for reductionism, relativism, and conventionalism, regardless of cost.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A wonderful and accurate summation of contemporary academic philosophy. As Wormtongue was to Saruman, academic philosophy is to the sciences.

      Delete
  25. I'm probably missing some point here about 'brute fact' - but I can't think anyone actually believes there are any facts that don't have an explanation. To be sure, almost every fact that I encounter I treat as a brute fact, in the sense that I don't attempt to find the explanation. Some things just are. But - surely! - I don't imagine anything could exist without an explanation? Indeed, the reason that some facts are remarkable - that ball apparently floating in space, or the horse appearing out of nowhere - precisely because I know that they have some explanation, and that, by contrast with unremarkable facts, such as a ball bouncing across a fence from a yard (where there would likely be a child playing with it), a ball just suddenly hanging in air needs some really strange explanation. I cannot imagine it would ever occur to me just to shrug my shoulders and say, "Ah! A ball hanging in mid-air." - and walk away. I almost wrote 'A ball mysteriously hanging in mid-air' - which word mysteriously indicates that, indeed, I know it has some explanation - which is, however, unfathomable.

    But maybe I don't know what people mean by 'brute fact.'

    jj

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John

      Of course we tend to look for explanations. But the fact of the matter is, we look for causes too.

      Denying the PSR means that we leave open the possibility that ultimately we arrive at something that has no explanation. But if theism is true we arrtive at a point that has no cause.
      The latter doiesn't seem to entail that we would not expect to see any causes at all, so why would denying that the first cause lacks an explanation mean that lots of things are unexplicable.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. God as first cause does not stand in need of a cause because he is pure act itself. It's a little like asking why, if water makes something wet, what makes water wet? Water doesn't need something else to be wet, since it is wetness itself. Similarly, God is actuality itself, (or "causality itself" if we want to put it that way), so not only does he not stand in need of a cause, it makes no sense to ask for one.

      If your ultimate explanation is self-explaining, then your analogy is apt. But if your ultimate explanation is simply a place where you stop explaining because you don't know how to go further, or because prior philosophical commitments prevent you from going further, then the analogy is not accurate.

      Delete
    4. The latter doiesn't seem to entail that we would not expect to see any causes at all, so why would denying that the first cause lacks an explanation mean that lots of things are unexplicable.

      Because... the one thing that lacks a cause provides its own explanation for why (a) it needs no cause, and (b) it needs no further explanation beside itself.

      It is, no ground for a supposition that there might be some thing that has no explanation: it is its own explanatory sufficiency, but it is not its own cause. What it has is no explanation BESIDES itself, which not a parallel condition with causality.

      Delete
    5. David

      You don't seem to understand what I am saying.
      We arrive at a point of an uncaused cause and yet this fact does not mean we are expected to see no causes at all, so the fact that we arrive at a point of something unexplained does not in and out of itself mean we are likely to expect lots of unexplained things.
      I am not claiming that both cases are parallel in any other sense. So, I don't need my ultimate explanation to be self-explaining.
      BTW, "God is actuality itself" does not explain why there is such a thing as actuality. The onky way to do this is by proving that absolutely nothing is logically impossible. And as long as this hasn't been done, it think it's wise not to claim things that cannot be backed up.
      That's why I leave oen the possibility of brute facts.

      Delete
    6. You seem to be insisting that an ultimum in the category of "explanation" would be "something with no explanation. But this is not so. The reality is that God constitutes His own adequate "explanation" without resort to another. In terms of intelligibility, God is the MOST intelligible of all, not unconnected to His being also self-explanatory. So "something unexplained by another", if the ultimate cause which is self-explanatory, does not leave us with anything that is either "unexplainable" nor "unintelligible".

      "God is actuality itself" does not directly make manifest that there is no need to "explain" God by something else. But it is the NATURE of that sort of being that must necessarily also constitute the ultimate in intelligibility, and also that it entail of itself its own sufficiency of explanation.

      Delete
    7. We arrive at a point of an uncaused cause and yet this fact does not mean we are expected to see no causes at all, so the fact that we arrive at a point of something unexplained does not in and out of itself mean we are likely to expect lots of unexplained things.

      Do you see why asking why water is wet is different than asking why a dog or a towel are wet? Water does not need a cause of its wetness. That's what an "uncaused cause" is. Water causes other things to be wet but does not need an external cause for itself being wet. It isn't merely the point in the chain of causal explanations where we arbitrarily stop looking for causes.

      For an "unexplained explanation" to be relevantly similar to an "uncaused cause", it would, like the uncaused cause, be "unexplained" because it stands in no need of explaining - not because we simply arbitrarily stopped the chain of explanation at some point. But that's just how your chain of explanation ends - arbitrarily. So your analogy does not hold.

      Delete
    8. David

      Actually water does need a cause of its wetness, but regardless, the question is not why water is wet, of why God is godlike, the question is why water exists in the first place, or why God exists in the first place. What is the reason God exists? If the answer is "God is necessary", then the one claiming this must also prove that it is impossible for at all to exist. If you want to do that, good luck with it, but if you can't it would be wise not to be so confident that everything has a reason. So, my analogy does hold.
      No, as I said before, I don't really care about the PSR. A first cause is a first cause, with or without the PSR.

      Delete
    9. "Actually water does need a cause of its wetness...the question is why water exists in the first place, or why God exists in the first place"

      To ask what causes water to be wet is not at all the same to ask why water exists in the first place. Justification: if I know that water exists because of X, Y, and Z, I am nowhere closer to knowing what causes water to be wet.

      The truth is, asking "what causes water to be wet" is to ask a stupid question.

      Delete
    10. The truth is, asking "what causes water to be wet" is to ask a stupid question.

      It would appear that it requires six molecules of H2O to be combined to make water wet

      So, what causes water to be wet? A quest for knowledge.

      Delete
    11. Qualitatively, ideal water as used in potential flow calculations would not be wet, i.e. possesses no viscosity (Dirichlet slip boundary condition)

      However, in Navier-Stokes calculations the water would be wet, i.e. possesses viscosity (Dirichlet no-slip boundary condition).

      Delete
  26. John,
    A brute fact is simply one that is unintelligible - it is "just there." If differs from a fact that has a cause that is as yet unknown to us. The brute fact has no cause for us to find. It just is.
    The PSR is essentially a denial of the possibilit of brute facts. The denial of the PSR is acceptance of the possibility of brute facts. Accepting brute facts entails some wide-ranging and disturbing consequences that are not always appreciated.
    David Hume thought through these implications and realized that it puts our knowledge of causality itself in question. For we never see causes themselves; we infer causes from circumstances. Even with something as simple as a ball hanging from a thread, we don't see the causal relationship itself of the thread holding up the ball; what we see is a ball and a thread in a relationship in physical space to each other, and infer the causal relationship of support. (Proof: Imagine you see a picture of a ball hanging from a thread. Then someone tells you that you are looking at the picture upside down - it's really the thread hanging from a ball that was pictured and the causal relationship is reversed. This mistake is only possible because you don't see the causal relationship itself, you merely infer it.)
    But if brute facts are possible, then our inference of the causal relationship is undermined. It might be, as Hume says, that not merely in the case of the picture seen upside down we are wrong, we are also wrong in the case seen right side up, because it may be that the ball and thread relationship is simply a brute fact - the ball and thread are "just there." (It doesn't help that if you cut the thread the ball falls - that fact might be something that is "just there" as well.)
    The problem is that brute facts, because they are brute, can't be distinguished from intelligible facts. Those who think they can are really slipping some intelligibility into their brute facts (and thereby denying their bruteness): They know, somehow, that brute facts won't mimic intelligible facts and fool us. But that is how we know first principles like the PSR are true. They are proven by the fact that in attempting to deny them, the denier ends up invoking them. In this case, by adding a little intelligibility to his brute facts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I understand what a 'brute fact' is - I just don't see how there can be such a thing. I don't think I am confusing the idea that for everything there is an explanation with the idea that something has a cause. And if I understand correctly the idea of 'brute fact', it doesn't mean something whose explanation we can't find - it just means that, even if we can't find it, everything has an explanation.

      Or maybe, after all, I am just confused :-)

      jj

      Delete
    2. David T & John

      When David T states:
      A brute fact is simply one that is unintelligible - it is "just there.

      David is partially correct and partially incorrect...

      If I modify the statement a brute fact would appear to be:

      A brute fact is intelligible - it is a priori.

      Would this be a more accurate definition of a brute fact for the both of you?

      Delete
  27. Can someone tell me a good way to distinguish between a cause and an explanation? I feel like I keep blurring the distinction.

    -Matt H.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A "cause" is that in the order of things without which something would not be. Nothing would be wet without water.

      An "explanation" is the revelation of a causal relationship to a rational mind. Water explains the wetness of my pants when I understand that my pants are wet because they came into contact with water.

      Causes are "out there" in the world; explanations are "in here" in my mind. An explanation truly explains something when my understanding of causal relationships maps accurately to the actual causal relationships in the world.

      Delete
    2. Is that really all that is meant? I thought that it was argued that God is uncaused, but not unexplained. I don't see how that makes sense if an explanation is the intellectual grasping of a cause.

      -Matt H.

      Delete
    3. In my view God is not unexplained because He explains Himself, but because He needs no explanation, just as He needs no cause. Others may differ on this.

      Delete
    4. David T
      God needs no explanation, just as God needs no cause.

      Then why has God given both in a single expression?

      An expression that reflects the word(explanation) and the deed(cause) in a single event.

      Delete
  28. Thomas Reid answered Hume's'skepticism' in the 18th century - why are we still troubled by him today?

    ReplyDelete