Here I respond to Keith Parsons’ third post. Jeff Lowder’s index of existing and forthcoming installments in my exchange with Prof. Parsons can be found here.
I’d like to respond now, Keith, to your comments about Bertrand Russell’s objection to First Cause arguments. Let me first make some general remarks about the objection and then I’ll get to your comments. Russell wrote, in Why I Am Not a Christian:
If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. (pp. 6-7)
The context makes it clear that Russell is presenting this as a knock-down refutation of the First Cause argument. For example, he immediately goes on to say that that argument “is exactly of the same nature as” and “really no better than” the view that the world rests on an elephant which rests on a tortoise, where the question what the tortoise rests on is left unanswered.
Now, this might be a knock-down refutation of a First Cause argument if such an argument either rested on the premise that absolutely everything without exception has a cause, or made a sudden, unexplained exception to this general rule in the case of God. For in the first case the argument would be guilty of contradicting itself, while in the second case it would be guilty of special pleading.
The trouble is that none of the major proponents of First Cause arguments (Avicenna, Maimonides, Aquinas, Scotus, Leibniz, Clarke, et al.) actually ever gave an argument like the one Russell appears to be attacking. For none of them maintain in the first place that absolutely everything has a cause; what they say instead is that the actualization of a potential requires a cause, or that what comes into existence requires a cause, or that contingent things require a cause, or the like. Nor do they fail to offer principled reasons for saying that God does not require a cause even though other things do. For they say, for example, that the reason other things require a cause is that they have potentials that need actualization, whereas God, being pure actuality, has no potentials that could be actualized; or that the reason other things require a cause is that they are composite and thus require some principle to account for why their parts are conjoined, whereas God, being absolutely simple or non-composite, has no metaphysical parts that need conjoining; or that while a contingent thing requires a cause insofar as it has an essence distinct from its act of existence (and thus has to acquire its existence from something other than its own nature), a necessary being, which just is existence or being itself, need not acquire its existence from anything else; and so forth.
So, in the actual arguments of proponents of the idea of God as First Cause, there just is no self-contradiction or special pleading of the sort Russell’s objection requires. The arguments may or may not be open to other objections, but Russell’s objection seems either aimed at a straw man or simply to miss the point.
Now you suggest reading Russell’s objection as directed at the sort of argument in which “cause” means something like “explanation” (where the notion of an explanation is broader than the notion of an efficient cause, which is what is usually meant by “cause” these days). Thus read, Russell’s objection becomes:
If everything must have [an explanation], then God must have [an explanation]. If there can be anything without [an explanation], it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.
But the trouble with this is that it does not save Russell from the charge that he was either attacking a straw man or missing the point. At best it just makes him guilty of attacking a different straw man or of missing a different point. For this reconstructed objection would be a good one only if proponents of First Cause arguments either insisted that everything has an explanation but then suddenly made an exception in the case of God, or if they denied that everything has an explanation but nevertheless arbitrarily insisted that the universe must have one while God need not. For in the first case they would be contradicting themselves while in the second case they would be engaged in special pleading.
But in fact defenders of First Cause arguments like the thinkers I named are doing no such thing. In fact they would agree that everything has an explanation, and they would not make any exception in the case of God. In their view, neither God’s existence nor the world’s existence is a “brute fact.” But the explanation of God’s existence, they would say, lies in his own nature, whereas the explanation of the existence of other things lies in their having an efficient cause. Nor is there any arbitrariness in their saying that God’s existence is explained by his own nature whereas the existence of other things requires an explanation in terms of some efficient cause distinct from them. For they would say, for example, that the reason other things require such a cause is that they are mixtures of actuality and potentiality, and thus need something to actualize their potentials, whereas God, being pure actuality, has no potentials needing actualization, and exists precisely because he just is actuality itself; or they would say that since other things have an essence distinct from their acts of existence, they need something outside their essence to impart existence to them, whereas God, whose essence just is existence, need not derive existence from anything else but exists precisely because being itself is what he is; and so forth.
Now, other objections might be raised against these sorts of arguments and the metaphysics that underlies them. But they are simply not guilty either of contradicting themselves, or of making an arbitrary exception in God’s case to a general demand that things must have explanations, or of failing to give a reason for saying that God has a kind of explanation that other things do not. So, they are simply not at all subject to Russell’s objection even as you suggest we read it.
So, I continue to maintain that Russell is attacking a straw man, at least if his remarks are intended as a response to an argument some philosopher has actually given, as opposed to some popular version of the argument. (And they surely are so intended, for what would be the point of a philosopher like Russell attacking only some unsophisticated version of the First Cause argument while ignoring the versions philosophers have actually given?) And perhaps you would agree with that much, since you don’t cite any examples of theistic philosophers who have given arguments like the one Russell attacks.
Russell offers a true disjunction: Either everything has a cause or not everything has a cause.ReplyDelete
The problem is definitely with Russell's second disjunct. He misses the fact that defenders of the CA have given reasons for thinking that God does not have a cause. Plus Russell gives us no reason to think that the universe might not have a cause.
But Russell doesn't say that the First Cause argument is committed to the first disjunct (that absolutely everything has a cause). After all, he offers the other possibility.
So, not a straw man, just a failure to understand the sophisticated versions of the CA and a failure to support his own conclusion.
I'll give my brief opinion, Jason.ReplyDelete
I don't think that in the context of the Mill quote, Russell can plausibly be taken to believe that he was not characterizing some First Cause arguments with his first disjunct. I will leave the interpretation of Russell's words to interested readers.
Let's assume that Russell was just using the law of excluded middle and did not take himself to be characterizing any arguments necessarily. You admit that the second disjunct makes a terrible, question begging argument.
But even in this case, Russell is open to the charge of burning a straw man. The suggestion and insistence that First Cause arguments have generally not defended principled reasons for denying the second disjunct is itself a mischaracterization. He likens defenders of First Cause arguments to those who say, "Suppose we change the subject." Since that is not what defenders of First Cause arguments do, he is burning a straw man by suggesting that his opponent evades and obscures rather than supporting his claims.
@Jason: Agreed, Russell does not offer a straw man (that I can see).ReplyDelete
I think we can expand Russell's argument as follows:
"If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause."
(Ec > Gc)
Therefore Su (some thing(s) can be uncaused)
"If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument."
(Su > (Gu v Wu)) & (Gu > Wu)
And it's that last bit that it seems Russell and Parsons have failed to actually think about. Certainly it seems rather absurd to just assume that if God can be uncaused, then the world can be uncaused, but that assumption seems to be the whole substance of their argument.
...and their final conclusion is:ReplyDelete
~(Su > Gu)
~(Ex(Ux) > [nec.](x=G))
Another aspect of Prof. Parsons' reply is that at least potentially, he is allowing his broadening of Russell's argument into "explanations" to bring with it an equivocation. (Though this might be just another way of saying what Prof. Feser said.)ReplyDelete
When we say that you need a cause to account for a thing (a thing made, a thing composite, a thing not of itself necessary, etc), you generally are going to mean in the first instance "to account for it's coming to be", but of course, it works to posit that the account should account for it's being even if it did not "come to be".
When Dr. Parsons expands it to "explanation," the "account for" certainly cannot be limited to being just the cause of it's coming to be. But what it brings into the picture that wasn't present with just looking for a "cause" is that the explanation is an explanation TO SOMEBODY. In this case, explaining to us humans, i.e. an account as to "how do we know this". The reason this is problematic is that it is logically possible for us humans to require an account as to how this bit of whatever is known to us without also implying that the thing in itself NEEDS an account inherently. That is, a thing can be self-evident in its own nature but not evident to us.
There are 3 distinct questions here:
1. Why is it?
2. Why is it so?
3. Why is it known to be so to us?
The literal version of Russell's argument cannot be taken to include the 3rd question, and Parson's version cannot be taken to exclude it. For classic theists, our account shows that God is by showing from effects that there must be something that adequately accounts for these effects, and such a thing must be being itself. But such an account doesn't state why God exists (does not provide a cause for God), nor does it state why God has the nature he has (does not provide a cause for his nature), but explains how it is that we know that nature is such as to be, necessarily.
For us humans, there are truths that need an account by logical demonstration (mathematical proofs), and other things that are known without proof, such as self-evident principles. There is indeed a KIND of account of our knowledge of these principles, but not proofs, because they precede all proof. Something is similar with God: there is no such thing as explaining why he is, because he precedes anything that could be used to explain. What our explanatory effort does is reveal that HE NEEDS NO EXPLANATION of himself, and shows why this is so to us mere humans who cannot perceive him in his own (self-evident) nature directly.
That is: not everything needs an explanation of itself. Not everything that we need an accounting for is something that we need an accounting for its "coming to be" or its "continuing to be": some (one) thing needs rather an accounting to our understanding of its not itself needing a reason for its being.ReplyDelete
Count me as one more signature on the petition to get AT-oriented defenders of the first cause argument to just drop this idee fixee that people who don't find it compelling are either idiots or liars, who say the argument says everything has a cause.ReplyDelete
The meat of the argument is in what its defenders put forward as in-principle, non-question-begging reasons the causal terminus couldn't be the physical universe. Are these reasons definitive? Plausible, but not quite conclusive? Let's see that debate!
But we almost never do, because it is just an article of faith that "sleazy", "slimy", "contemptible" atheists are beating up on this strawman.
If you have good evidence your tax reform proposal would be better than my tax reform proposal, people need to hear it. But no one can hear it when all your partisans can talk about is how my tax reform proposal is part of a plot to tank the US economy so Obama can send in his urban gangs to enforce martial law and take our guns away.
"Count me as one more signature on the petition to get AT-oriented defenders of the first cause argument to just drop this idee fixee that people who don't find it compelling are either idiots or liars, who say the argument says everything has a cause."
I see nothing in Ed's post or anywhere else stating that people who don't find the First Way compelling are "idiots or liars." On the contrary, I see quite a bit to suggest that quite a lot of people who think they don't find the First Way compelling haven't in fact engaged with it at all.
"[I]t is just an article of faith that 'sleazy', 'slimy', 'contemptible'" atheists are beating up on this strawman."
Do those quotation marks indicate that you're quoting a source? If so, who is it?
"The meat of the argument is in what its defenders put forward as in-principle, non-question-begging reasons the causal terminus couldn't be the physical universe. Are these reasons definitive? Plausible, but not quite conclusive? Let's see that debate!"ReplyDelete
You're seeing it now. Ed makes that very argument (yet again) in the post on which you're commenting.
(And much more explicitly in the previous post. Either way, though, you're seeing the debate you want to see.)ReplyDelete
"Do those quotation marks indicate that you're quoting a source? If so, who is it?"ReplyDelete
The trouble is that a full fleshing out of the strength of the traditional CA is not something that can be done effectively in a combox, or even a few blog articles. To show the depth *and necessity* of that metaphysical system - which if embraced - entails that the CA is definitive (read demonstrative), involves delving into the deepest and most nuanced regions of epistemology and ontology. In fact, though Dr. Feser is doing an excellent job laying down the outlines, I suspect that folks like Parsons (and perhaps yourself) are going to see his references to substance/accident, form/matter, act/potency, essence/existence, as an exotic categorical construct. That is the obvious reason that he points to book-length works within his responses to Parsons; although I notice that Parsons has expressed the hope that the complete arguments might be rendered within the current response format. But that is simply unrealistic when dealing with two clashing philosophical traditions.
Nevertheless, Aristotle and the Scholastic tradition have endeavored to show that once one understands what their metaphysical principles entail, it can be shown that such principles must necessarily be affirmed on pain of violating the law of non-contradiction. But that involves deep diving below the very roots of both empiricism (nominalism) and subjectivist idealism; an expedition not well suited to blog entries. If you wish to grasp the full strength of the arguments, you are going to have to do some work. Try Garrigou Lagrange's "God: His Existence and His Nature" for a formal defense claiming to show that rejection of the conclusions of natural theology commit one – necessarily - to a rejection of the principle of non-contradiction. I cannot imagine a bolder attempt at demonstrative argument than one which claims to be able to resolve the proposition that “God exists” all the way back to the principles of identity and non-contradiction.
If you would like to gain a feel for just how vast the divide is – at a fundamental level – between the Aristotelian tradition and modern anglophile philosophy; and why that divide is not going to be bridged in a few articles, consider reading this insightful letter from Charles Dekoninck to Mortimer Adler, addressing this very issue:
Ah. So what Ed was describing as sleazy, slimy, and contemptible was not "atheists" but a certain sort of debaters' trick.
"Do those quotation marks indicate that you're quoting a source? If so, who is it?"
If you're going to convince us of your intellectual seriousness, Hivemaker, you might try citing intellectually serious sources instead. Which the post you cite is not, as I showed here:
. . . and the point was supported, I should add, with argument and direct quotations, and not presented/treated as an "article of faith."ReplyDelete
It's also worth noting that Ed gave the following argument:ReplyDelete
(1) Presenting the "everything has a cause" "version" of the cosmological argument as the basic version in need of repair is relevantly similar to presenting the "chimp gives birth to a human infant" "version" of Darwinism.
(2) It would be sleazy to suggest that the "chimp gives birth to a human infant" "version" of Darwinism is the basic version of Darwinism, the other versions of which are in need of repair.
(3) Dennett and Le Poidevin present the "everything has a cause" "version" of the cosmological version as the basic version in need of repair.
(4) Dennett and Le Poidevin are sleazy.
There are a number of points where the analogy could be disputed. Obviously it is not an argument that could be applied to atheists as a group. It is only an argument that could be applied to those atheists who would present the cosmological argument in a way that they would not want Darwinism presented.
Even there I'd quibble to a minor extent with point (4). Ed argues (I think successfully) that Dennett and Le Poidevin have done something sleazy, not that they are sleazy. The distinction may seem oversubtle to some, but it's important. Rosenhouse seems to re-characterize Ed's description as a personal attack (against Dennett and Le Poidevin if not against all atheists), but it isn't one.
What I actually said in the post that generated that exchange way back when, viz.:ReplyDelete
was that a certain argumentational procedure utilized by Dennett and Le Poidevin was sleazy, and I also explicitly said that I was not claiming that they were deliberately trying to make a sleazy move. And saying "So-and-so made a certain argumentational move that was sleazy, though maybe not deliberately so" is a far cry from saying "So-and-so is a sleazy person, full stop."
Thanks, Scott, I was writing that last comment as you posted yours, it seems.ReplyDelete
Seems so. Well, similar points made in two somewhat different ways—I call that triangulation rather than redundancy. I think we've sunk that battleship.ReplyDelete
It seems to me a perfectly adequate explanation that certain laws, such as the laws of physics, the law of causation, the laws of nature, etc, apply within the universe, but do not apply outside of the universe. Therefore the universe itself would not require a cause.ReplyDelete
How would we, as human beings, know which laws apply outside of the universe?
This seems like a far more simple, coherent and elegant position than all this talk about actuality and potentiality, that I wont pretend to understand.
"This seems like a far more simple, coherent and elegant position than all this talk about actuality and potentiality, that I wont pretend to understand."
If you won't even pretend to understand it, how do you know it's less simple, coherent, and elegant than the Aristotelian-Thomist view?
"It seems to me a perfectly adequate explanation that certain laws, such as the laws of physics, the law of causation, the laws of nature, etc, apply within the universe, but do not apply outside of the universe."ReplyDelete
"Certain laws" sounds question begging. What determines which laws apply and which ones do not?
Secondly, the "law of causation" as you put it is metaphysical. Physical laws are descriptions of matter.
I assume that the Thomistic cosmological argument isn't simpler than an argument that I can easily understand, because of the difficulty I am having understanding it. But I am perfectly open to the possibility that it simply has never been properly explained to me.
It's also possible that its more coherent and elegant as well, that's why i'm here.
But maybe you could start by pointing out what is wrong with my already very simple explanation of why the unverse doesn't need a cause.
I have no idea which laws apply outside of the universe and which don't. That's my whole point. Since you are the ones making the argument, the onus is on you to establish which laws apply.
Leaving Hume aside for the moment. I'm still not too clear on what evidence exists for this metaphysical law of causation. It certainly seems, based on our empirical observations, that most things have causes. I guess intuitively it makes some sense that everything should have a cause. But on what basis are you arguing that this is an absolute metaphysical law applying in all universes for all eternity without exception?
But maybe you could start by pointing out what is wrong with my already very simple explanation of why the unverse doesn't need a cause.ReplyDelete
You didn't have an explanation of why the universe needs a cause beyond 'Sure, everything else does, but maybe this is an exception? I don't know why, but that seems legit.'
Causality has been discussed on this blog a lot. I'll see if I can round up some of the posts.ReplyDelete
There's more than those two. Causation is also discussed in part 2 of the exchange and in some other posts.
Also these were meant to be short exchanges. IIRC, Lowder established a length limit. Thus, Feser can't cram a full explanation or defense of certain arguments into the post. That's why he says, in the second exchange, "Obviously not every reader will agree with or even be familiar with these ideas."ReplyDelete
It seems to me a perfectly adequate explanation that certain laws, such as the laws of physics, the law of causation, the laws of nature, etc, apply within the universe, but do not apply outside of the universe. Therefore the universe itself would not require a cause.ReplyDelete
This does not really solve the problem. Classical arguments appealing to causation argue that causation in the universe (ie. between contingent, finite beings) is not sufficient to explain change or the existence of act/potency composites. As such, it won't do to say that causation just holds in the universe; the scholastic is arguing that the causation in the universe, because it is not sufficient, cannot be the only causation.
"It seems to me a perfectly adequate explanation that certain laws, such as the laws of physics, the law of causation, the laws of nature, etc, apply within the universe, but do not apply outside of the universe. Therefore the universe itself would not require a cause."
I'm not sure how simple, coherent, and elegant that is.
For starters, what do you even mean by the locution "outside of the universe"? What is that supposed to refer to (if not God)?
And once you've explained that, how do propose to establish the truth/plausibility of your premise here?
And once you've explained that, perhaps you could explain how your conclusion follows from your premise (although perhaps this will be obvious once you've dealt with the first two tasks).
@ David MReplyDelete
By outside of the Universe, I merely mean not inside the Universe. I'm afraid I cant expand on that any further, and I don't think anyone else can either.
I'd put my argument as follows:
a) Human beings may lack the conceptual framework to understand any occurrence not inside of our universe.
b) Therefore there is a strong possibility that our understanding of causation cannot be properly applied to events, if any, happening not inside of our universe.
c) Therefore there is no reason to assume that the universe must have had a cause.
"I guess intuitively it makes some sense that everything should have a cause."
Actually it doesn't, and that's not what the principle of causality says. The principle of causality says that every change requires a cause, and in particular that anything that comes into being has a cause. But it most certainly does not say that everything requires a cause, and indeed Aquinas's cosmological arguments are intended to show precisely that there is an uncaused being.
The question is what that uncaused being is like. You propose that it might be the "universe," but depending on precisely what you mean by that term, the "universe" just isn't the sort of thing that can exist uncaused. If you mean what most of us mean by it, then it consists of things that come into and go out of existence, undergo change, are (in Aristotelian terms) composites of form and matter, and so forth.
If you're using it in some other sense, then you may simply be talking about God under another name. And in fact much of what you say can be restated so that it's about God—and true.
The reason why the universe as a whole can't be uncaused is that being uncaused entails a number of other attributes - for example, simplicity, immutability, immateriality, and eternity - which the universe does not possess.
But the steps from (a) to (b) and from (b) to (c) are both very big steps that would need justification. From the fact that humans may lack the conceptual framework for something, it does not directly follow that there's a strong possibility that they can't properly apply certain concepts to it; the move from bare possibly-don't to very-probably-can't is a significant ratcheting-up of modality. And the same is true of the move from (b) to (c), from very-probably-can't to no-reason-at-all-to-think-they-can. There have to be some rather robust implicit premises doing the actual heavy lifting here.
(Indeed, the only simple argument that would do this kind of work is if we were to assume that 'universe' here just meant 'whatever it is to which human conceptual framework can be applied'; in which case it ceases to be relevant to the discussion, since what that is, is simply what is being discussed. This is one reason why DavidM (and Scott) is right that you need an independent way of specifying what counts as inside or outside the universe: it's needed for anyone to be able to establish precisely what the argument's relevance to the topic is.)
"By outside of the Universe, I merely mean not inside the Universe. I'm afraid I cant expand on that any further, and I don't think anyone else can either."
That's interesting - I wonder why not? It might make sense that others can't expand on what YOU mean by some locution, insofar as you can mean whatever you want when you use a term. (Humpty Dumpty once had something important to say about this.) But I would hope that you could. How do determine, for example, whether something is or is not "inside/outside of the universe"? (And please bear in mind Brandon's critique of your argument.)
Actually it doesn't, and that's not what the principle of causality says.ReplyDelete
And the "everything has a cause" principle leads to an inconsistency. It implies the existence of ungrounded essentially ordered series, which are impossible. So it is not the case that everything has a cause.
PFLP seems to be reiterating, although not for the sake of clarity, an argument of a recent thread that depends upon an equivocation as to what is meant by universe.ReplyDelete
Scott's replacement for "everything has a a cause", which he gives above, is "every change requires a cause." Schopenhauer endorsed this version and claimed that it shows that there can be no first cause.
So, here is a question: Does Soctt's principle imply the existence of an ungrounded essentially ordered series?
Schopenhauer's claim was that every change has its cause in another change, which is not equivalent.ReplyDelete
Schopenhauer endorsed "every change has a cause" and "every change has its cause in another change." The latter implies the former.
From Schopenhauer's dissertation:
"Every effect, at the time it takes place, is a change and, precisely by not having occurred sooner, infallibly indicates some other change by which it has been proceeded. That other change takes the name of cause, when referred to the following one--of effect, when referred to a third necessarily preceding change. This is the change of causality It is necessarily without a beginning. By it, each supervening state must have resulted from a preceding change . . ."
I am not familiar with Schopenhauer. If Brandon is correct in saying that his principle was that every change is caused by another change, then I would say that principle is refuted because it would lead to ungrounded essentially ordered series.
But I believe Scott's principle, conjoined with the impossibility of ungrrounded essentially ordered series, is what gets one a first cause.
Admittedly my Schopenhauer is a bit rusty, but Schopenhauer seems pretty clearly to take the former to imply the latter as well. This is not something that can be generally assumed.
I'm not sure what your quotation is supposed to indicate.
Am I missing something?ReplyDelete
Whilst it is obviously true that some causes are themselves changes, why believe the Schopenhauerian assumption that all causes are themselves changes?
Sorry Brandon, I didn't see your post.ReplyDelete
To be clear here, I agree with Ed that the best formulation of the principle of causality is in terms of act and potency: a potency is actualized only by that which is itself already actual. (I deliberately didn't use that version in my post because I was replying to someone who had earlier claimed not to understand such talk.)ReplyDelete
Schopenhauer's formulation neither entails nor is entailed by this one. His version says that changes (events) are caused, not by "things," but by other events that strictly precede them in time. Taken strictly, his version appears to rule out not only (many) causal series in esse, but arguably quite a lot of Aristotelian causality in general.
I see one of the Anonymouses beat me to one of my points while I was composing my post.ReplyDelete
"Humpty Dumpty once had something important to say about this."
He did indeed, and it's appropriate that you should mention him in a thread mainly about the Mad Hatter.
I thought, probably erroneously (I think I just misread your comment), that you were claiming that I was wrong about Schopenhauer's view on causation.
I agree with you that he thinks that both principles are true and each implies the other. The quote was supposed to be evidence that he endorses the claim that every change has a cause.
I agree with Scott to an extent. Schopenhauer's conception of causation is importantly different from Aristotle's. S does not see the causal chain as an essentially ordered series.
I don't think this is the place for it, but I'd like to see some discussion concerning the merits of S's view compared to A's. I might write a blog post about S and the cosmological argument in the next few days.
My point was that it seems like treating Schopenhauer's version and Scott's version as the same involves an equivocation -- even phrasing them the same, they are not at all the same claim; Schopenhauer's is much more specific and controversial.
I think trying to find a serious difference between Schopenhauer and Aristotle on this particular point would be futile. Aristotle also admits causal chains that are not essentially ordered, and he does not think they require a first; the whole eternity of the world matter. Indeed, Schopenhauer's argument is remarkably similar to one of the standard motion-based arguments for the eternity of the world. (The Thomistic line on that, of course, is that such arguments are non-demonstrative, always having to assume something that is neither self-evident nor provable; and that, in fact, taking such a series in itself with no other information it is provably impossible for us to prove either way whether it had a first or not.) As such, though, it's not particularly relevant to most standard cosmological arguments.
I'm back again, with another statement for my interlocutor. I'm in an argument with someone who insists that Aquinas' arguments are "God of the Gaps", that they are just taken on faith, etc. I'm trying to show him the Thomistic arguments and I've come up with a presentation like this. I've started it, but I'm not sure how to finish it. Could you assist me, please?
"The arrival at the Prime Mover is not sheer assertion, but a logical deduction from the premises:
1. Change is the actualisation of potency (for example, wood, which has the potential to become hot, actually becomes hot through contact with fire, which is actually hot)
2. Only that which is actual can actualise potency (You can't use something that isn't hot to actualise the wood's potential to become hot).
3. But if something is at least partially comprised of potency, then it cannot account for its own existence, for its ability to exist would have to have been actualised by something (its parents, the acorn it used to be, the tree the acorn came from, etc). But if everything is contingent (and everything we know of with our senses is contingent, because they are capable of changing in some way), then we arrive at incoherence, because everything that could explain the existence of anything else would itself need an account of how it came to exist.
The link you quote states:
The basic cosmological argument:
Anything that exists has a cause of its existence.
Nothing can be the cause of its own existence.
The universe exists.
Which is WRONG.
Feser spent this whole blog post (not to mention several other posts and two books at least) explaining while this is NOT what the Cosmological Argument says.
Feser is not alone, since many others have explained this.
Even WL CRAIG refutes this line of thought and he uses the Kalaam CA (which is a weak CA in my opinion).
So I guess whan you say:
defenders of the first cause argument to just drop this idee fixee that people who don't find it compelling are either idiots or liars, who say the argument says everything has a cause.
I WOULD agree IF ever critics of the cosmological argument EVER got it right!
If you continue to make ALWAYS the SAME MISTAKE, after being reminded a 100 times that you are wrong, you are either idiots, liars or just do not care to listen to others.
"He did indeed, and it's appropriate that you should mention him in a thread mainly about the Mad Hatter."
Wow! That. is. awesome. The spitting image of 'im!
@Brandon on March 1, 9:30pm:ReplyDelete
Yes, precisely. That covers pretty much exactly what I wanted to say on the subject.
I think that there is a serious disagreement between Schopenhauer and Aristotle (or at least Aquinas). Schopenhauer thinks that the causal chain has no beginning (and by this he means that there are no causal chains that have a beginning) whereas Aquinas thinks that there exists a causal chain that has a beginning. (And, by the way, it seems to me that, regardless, the Thomist needs a non-question-begging response to Schopenhauer).
Furthermore, Schopenhauer accuses Aristotle of failing to distinguish between reason-as-ground and reason-as-cause. That is a serious disagreement.
Obviously there's disagreement between the two. It's simply not on the subject of the kind of causal chain Schopenhauer allows, which is what we were talking about; and this kind of causal chain is simply irrelevant to the sort of Aristotle-influenced cosmological argument we find in (e.g.) Aquinas. The point of dispute is quite different, namely what kinds of causal chains there are. Both of your points only have to do with this, and nothing else.
The fact that Schopenhauer thinks that the causal chains he allows have no beginning is simply irrelevant, in other words, since they aren't the causal chains that are relevant to most major cosmological arguments, beyond a very narrow family of them. The primary issue instead is whether Schopenhauer is right that his account of causation is exhaustive. (Not surprising, actually, since this is a recurring point of dispute between Aristotelians and major modern philosophers.) And thus we see you have it backwards: Schopenhauer, or the person wanting to follow him on this, needs a non-question-begging response to Aristotle -- otherwise nothing he says is particularly significant for the subject.
Schopenhauer thinks that there all causal chains are beginningless. And he has an argument for this conclusion. Since Thomists obviously disagree, they should have a response.
How does S's account of causation beg the question?
Schopenhauer thinks that all causal chains are beginningless because he has a very particular idea of what causal chains are; one that does not coincide, as you yourself already pointed out, with other accounts of causation. Thus it is, again, irrelevant that he thinks that the causal chains are beginningless; the causal chains themselves are irrelevant, and would be just as irrelevant if he thought they had beginnings, unless Schopenhauer (or someone following him) can establish definitively that he has covered all possible bases with regard to causation and that when other people, like Aristotle, claim that there are other kinds of causation, there is nothing in reality actually corresponding to what they are talking about.ReplyDelete
And indeed, I've already told you what the Thomist response to Schopenhauer would be: that his causal account is incomplete, which is exactly what anyone would have expected any kind of Aristotelian response to be. It's not as if Aristotelian accounts of causation are devoid of argument; Aristotle argued for them, and then they had to be argued for yet again against the Muslim occasionalists, and they have been argued for further in light of Hume and others. Since Schopenhauer disagrees, he, and anyone who wishes to use him, needs to establish that they are all wrong, and why.
I don't recall at any point saying that Schopenhauer begs the question; you're the one who brought begging the question up. But Schopenhauer cannot even be relevant unless he does, in fact, have an argument that every causal account more expansive than his own is wrong, and to do that job it would indeed obviously have to be non-question-begging. So anyone following Schopenhauer would have to show that it isn't question-begging.
Nor can Schopenhauer, or anyone following him, seriously ignore this: it is essential to Schopenhauer's theory of error that universal claims need to be established by complete induction of some kind, since failure to do so is one of the two major kinds of error he recognizes. So, before it could even be determined that Schopenhauer has something significant to say, we'd need the purported complete induction establishing that Schopenhauer has captured every possible kind of causation, and that there is nothing in reality corresponding to the other kinds of causation appealed to by Aristotelians and the like.
And, indeed, we see here again why it's simply irrelevant that he thinks the causal chains he recognizes are beginningless: it does no work even if he's right. If he once establishes for certain that there are no causal chains except those that he recognizes, all arguments built on any other kind of causal chain are already wrong -- whether other kinds of causal chains are beginningless or not wouldn't save them. Thus, again: you are trying to press the argument at exactly the wrong point. The point of importance, the fundamental divergence between Schopenhauer and the Aristotelian, is whether Schopenhauer's causal account is complete and definitive, not whether he thinks causal chains of law-related changes have beginnings or not.
To sum up:ReplyDelete
That Schopenhauer thinks causal chains are beginningless is irrelevant to broadly Aristotelian cosmological arguments unless it is established that their more expansive causal accounts fail, and this because
(1) The causal chains in Aristotelian accounts that correspond most closely to the causal chains Schopenhauer allows are also considered by Aristotle himself to be beginningless, and, indeed, Schopenhauer's arguments that they are beginningless are, as I noted, very similar to Aristotle's arguments on this point -- so similar, in fact, that it's highly likely that Schopenhauer is adapting Aristotle to his own purposes precisely at this point. Where they differ is not in this but in the more expansive character of Aristotle's causal account.
(2) Even if we ignored this, Schopenhauer's argument depends on universal claims of the sort he himself elsewhere recognizes needs to be established rather than assumed.
(3) What actually does the work in addressing all but a very, very limited family of cosmological arguments can only be the restriction on what counts as a cause: given this, most cosmological arguments are already ruled out, including all the Aristotelian-based ones. Thus, if Schopenhauer is right, we've already ruled them out long before we've got to the question of whether the causal chains Schopenhauer does allow have any beginnings or not.
It seems to me that Schopenhauer's argument against the CA (or most CAs) can be boiled down to (or over simplified as), "Certain men made the mistake of ceasing to hold to a materialistic view, and had they not ceased to hold to a materialistic view, they would not have derived a false argument from their false principle that something other than a materialistic view is tenable."ReplyDelete
This is my summation of a two-minute, er, analysis of the large paragraph commencing 'twix and 'tween [pg 211] and [pg 212] of this translation of Schopenhauer's The World As Will And Idea.
- - - - -
Also in that paragraph, Schopenhauer seems to be of the opinion, not that it is impossible for a material something to have once not existed and then to have later come into existence (which coming into existence would have been via something other than the mere modification or rearrangement of already existing matter), but that the law of causality, in light of what he says its proper formulation ought to be, would have no bearing on or relevance to the matter (no pun intended) should such an occurrence take place -- and this for the reason that, when properly formulated (and understood) in the way he says it ought to be, the law of causality pertains only, solely and to nothing but changes and variations in states of existing matter, and not at all to the existence of matter itself.
But even if the tiniest bit of matter presently in existence has never not existed, it does not logically follow that it is necessarily impossible for a non-material something to be involved in the occurrence of changes and variations in the states of matter.
Of course, that such is not necessarily impossible represents a potential problem, which potential problem is that some might begin to wonder whether a non-material something might not not only be involved in the occurrence of changes and variations in the states of matter, but also in some way might be a contributing cause, if not at times the primary cause, of said changes and variations.
However -- and most fortunately -- there is a way around this potential problem.
Not only is there a way around this potential problem, the way around this potential problem is fairly simple and rather straightforward.
The simply and straightforward way around this potential problem is to carefully define what it means for one thing to be caused by another thing.
For example, it might be said that:
a) only a change in state of something material may be taken legitimately as causing a change in the state in some other material something; and,
b) no change in the state of a material something may be taken legitimately as having been in some way caused unless that change can be traced back and assigned to a change in state of some other material something.
Now, this definition of what it means for one thing to be the cause of something else, and for one thing to be caused by something else, may be given a moniker, such as, say, the law of causality.
And it might be pointed out -- indeed, it should be point out -- that no greater confirmation of the veracity of this law of causality can be had than by appeal to this unimpeachable fact -- that all men (excepting those who misfits who succumbed to the hallucination that there might something other than mere material things, and changes and variations in states of material things) used to hold to this view.
(The link does not directly take one to the page containing the referenced paragraph; one first has to click Ok in the "Welcome" window, then click "Read this book online (HTML)".)ReplyDelete
In fairness to Schopenhauer, he is presupposing arguments given in Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The building progression in the passage is very interesting, though:ReplyDelete
(1) cause depends on time
(2) no possible simultaneity of cause and effect
(3) all causation is a temporal relation between changes
(4) no cosmological argument
Historically (1) and (2) are highly controversial, as Schopenhauer to his credit recognizes here. Aristotelians, Platonists, most early modern rationalists, and a significant portion of nineteenth century physicists (who often read Newton's Third Law as a causal principle) denied (2); even Kant paused long enough to reflect on the puzzle of a ball continually causing a dent in a mattress. Schopenhauer's argument for (2) is interesting, but it's difficult to see what it actually establishes.
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Thank you for your posts. I would like to discuss this more, if you are willing. Can you be more specific concerning the aspects of Aristotle's account of causation that Schopenhauer's account leaves out. Also, can you explain how this more expansive account allows for a causal chain with a beginning? Finally, what evidence is there that favors Aristotle over Schopenhauer here?
I know this is asking a lot, but pretend that you are dealing with an Aristotelian moron (which isn't too far from the truth). I cannot find a thorough discussion of Schopenhauer's view of causation vs. Aristotle's. I find that somewhat odd give that S takes A to task in the Fourfold Root for, among other things, confusing reason and cause.
I understand if you don't have time to respond to my questions.
Put simply: Aristotle's account of causation is very pluralistic: he does not attempt, and thinks it would be absurd to attempt, to reduce all causes to one kind. Every change is capable of having many, many, many causes. These are organized in terms of the famous four causes, but a change could have many causes of one kind (they usually do, in fact). There are other distinctions that cross this basic classification, however, one of which is the distinction between per se and per accidens causation, which is the foundation for the idea of 'essentially ordered' vs 'incidentally or accidentally ordered' causal chains. What Schopenhauer calls causes, Aristotelians would consider to belong to one very particular kind of cause, namely, per accidens moving causes, and what goes for them couldn't automatically be assumed to apply even to other kinds of moving causes. There are lots of others. Schopenhauer's four kinds of applications for the principle of sufficient reason are clearly derived from Aristotle's four causes (although strained through the kinds of arguments you note), but he doesn't have anything, as far as I know, like a per se / per accidens distinction.
Further, since Aristotle's account of causation is based on the distinction between the actual and the potential, not, as Schopenhauer's is, on the distinction between subject and object, Aristotle thinks different kinds of causes can be combined into unified explanations, and for some things must be -- Schopenhauer's sealing-off of the four kinds of applications of the PSR from each other is probably one of the biggest ways in which his approach differs from Aristotle.
Further, it's foreign to Aristotle's thought to try to derive causes from a single principle of sufficient reason the way Schopenhauer does; one of Aristotle's most famous discoveries was establishing that some things could not be given a univocal classification. Thus (to take just an example) a serious Aristotelian would ask whether there might not be several different but related kinds of principle of sufficient reason, and would hesitate to endorse a single principle covering everything unless it were established that it did.
Whether or not causal chains have to have beginnings in an Aristotle-style account, then, will depend simply on the nature of the particular causal chain in question. Some kinds of cause that Aristotle identifies are such that it can be shown to imply a contradiction if assumed to regress infinitely -- something would have to be both caused and uncaused, for instance -- while others don't. Aristotle himself, of course, argued that the world never began, and that for every change there is a prior change, and did so on causal principles. But he also argued for first causes. Different causes, different results.
I'm not sure what you're looking for in evidence. There are certainly things Schopenhauer claims directly follow from his account that are highly controversial -- to take one example, Schopenhauer holds simultaneous causation to be impossible, while Aristotle takes it to be possible, and it's not difficult to find arguments, Aristotelian or otherwise, that simultaneous causation sometimes occurs. I don't know Schopenhauer well enough to know how he would handle cases like these. Plus, it's a little difficult to compare precisely because they each take a different distinction to be fundamental. An Aristotelian would argue that actual/potential is a better starting point than subject/object, perhaps by arguing that the former can explain the latter better than vice versa. But that gets into very fundamental metaphysics. It's not the sort of thing that could be easily hashed out in a comment box.
Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate it and I apologize for the late reply.
Just a couple of points, one relatively minor, one more important. First, the minor point: You subtly criticize Schopenhauer for claiming that there is one PSR and suggest that Aristotle would have wondered whether there were several different, but related, kinds of PSR. In fact (as you know), Schopenhauer, while asserting that there is a PSR, also claimed that it has four roots. I am not certain that he hasn't done precisely what you though Aristotle would do, namely consider whether there are distinct kinds of reasons and thus distinct kinds of PSR. That S calls them roots of one Principle rather than distinct principles doesn't seem to matter much. In any event, it is simply a consequence of his following the law of homogeneity.
Second, and more importantly, it is relevant that even though Schopenhauer accepted and relied upon (a version of) the PSR, he also claimed that its application was limited to the phenomenal realm (appearance/representation). PSR does not apply to the thing-in-itself. Thus, we cannot meaningfully ask why the Will exists or why it is as it is, according to Schopenhauer. The Will, as the thing-in-itself, is not subject to the PSR.
So, like Aquinas, S argued for the existence of something that makes sense of the realm of appearance (Aquinas would not put it like that, but the thoughts are very similar). But, unlike Aquinas, S did not think that the ultimate reality (thing-in-itself/Will) had its reason for existence in its own nature. Rather, he believed that it is nonsense to suppose that there must be a reason for it to exist. The PSR does not apply here.
I don't think we have to adopt S's metaphysics in order to adapt his thought to the present argument. When we talk about ultimate reality, or the beginning of the universe, or the underlying metaphysical nature of causation, we are talking about areas in which it should not be obvious that our normal everyday concepts apply. Take the Big Bang, for example. Why should we think that, once we are dealing with a reality in which the notion of matter, time, and space, break down, that our notion of cause is still going to be applicable?
The point is that neither 'cause' nor 'reason' may not be notions that applies to ultimate. This may sound like obscurantism, but I think it is just humility.
"Take the Big Bang, for example. Why should we think that, once we are dealing with a reality in which the notion of matter, time, and space, break down, that our notion of cause is still going to be applicable?"
Obviously *if* our notion of causation depends upon notions/things that 'break down' when dealing with a particular 'reality,' then that notion of causation will break down in that situation. But what makes you think that 'our' notion of causation (as opposed to yours or Schopenhauer's) is tied to anything that 'breaks down' at any given point? (Just because S's PSR doesn't apply to asking why the Will exists, doesn't mean that we can't ask why the Will exists, or that there is no reason for its existence - does it?)
"The point is that neither 'cause' nor 'reason' may not be notions that applies to ultimate. This may sound like obscurantism, but I think it is just humility."
You're right in a sense: neither 'cause' nor 'reason' are notions that apply (univocally) to 'ultimate' (a.k.a. God). But that's an integral feature of the argument, not a counter-argument! So your position sounds to me like neither obscurantism nor humility, but confusion, missing the point.
"You're right in a sense: neither 'cause' nor 'reason' are notions that apply (univocally) to 'ultimate' (a.k.a. God). But that's an integral feature of the argument, not a counter-argument! So your position sounds to me like neither obscurantism nor humility, but confusion, missing the point."ReplyDelete
I don't understand. The conclusion of the CA (Aquinas' version) is that there exists a being whose nature contains the reason for its existence. Feser has been arguing that everything is subject to the PSR. If so, then of course, there is a reason that God exists. So, how can it be an integral feature of the CA that 'reason' does not apply to god?
David M didn't say "reason" doesn't apply to God; he said it doesn't apply univocally (in precisely the same way/sense in which it applies to creatures).
God's nature doesn't merely "contain" but is the reason for His existence; His essence just is His "act of existing." That the argument shows that God, unlike any creature, is His own "reason" is the "integral feature" in question.
If 'reason' cannot univocally be applied to God and contingent objects, then any argument that uses the PSR to "prove" that God exists (and that his reason for his existence is contained in his nature) is guilty of an equivocation fallacy.
In addition, if 'reason' as applied to God means something different than it does as applied to contingent objects, then we need an account of what it means when applied to God.
Right. To quote Feser's second last paragraph, above:ReplyDelete
"Now, other objections might be raised against these sorts of arguments and the metaphysics that underlies them. But they are simply not guilty either of contradicting themselves, or of making an arbitrary exception in God’s case to a general demand that things must have explanations, or of failing to give a reason for saying that God has a kind of explanation that other things do not."
I see Jason snuck in before me there. My "Right" was directed to Scott's remark.ReplyDelete
When you understand the argument, you understand that a first cause (along with the reason for its existence) is necessarily sui generis. You can't then turn around and say, "well I guess that means that the whole argument was based on equivocation." How is that supposed to follow?ReplyDelete
David M has already addressed this, but I'll just add that univocity and equivocity aren't the only two alternatives. Are you rejecting the Thomistic idea of analogical terms and predication? If so, why?
The issue is this: Does the first cause have a reason for its existence or not ? If it does, then 'reason' better be univocal because if it isn't then we don't know what we mean.
Feser says that God has a different kind of explanation. But it is still an explanation; there is still a reason. Planets have a different kind of explanation than rabbits. But the words 'reason' and 'cause' mean the same in both kinds of explanation.
"Planets have a different kind of explanation than rabbits. But the words 'reason' and 'cause' mean the same in both kinds of explanation."
Could you expand on what you mean here? What are the respective 'reasons' and 'causes' of planets and rabbits that you have in mind here, and why would you expect them to apply univocally to the first cause (a.k.a. God)?
"[W]hy would you expect them to apply univocally to the first cause (a.k.a. God)?"ReplyDelete
. . . as opposed, not to "equivocally," but to "analogically"?
I don't think we have to adopt S's metaphysics in order to adapt his thought to the present argument. When we talk about ultimate reality, or the beginning of the universe, or the underlying metaphysical nature of causation, we are talking about areas in which it should not be obvious that our normal everyday concepts apply. Take the Big Bang, for example. Why should we think that, once we are dealing with a reality in which the notion of matter, time, and space, break down, that our notion of cause is still going to be applicable?ReplyDelete
I don't see why it would matter. There is no positing of "ultimate reality, or the beginning of the universe, or the underlying metaphysical nature of causation" at all except on rational grounds; if those rational grounds are causal, we've already established that causality extends that far, and if they aren't, why they make it impossible for causal reasoning to extend that far needs to be established. Otherwise one is simply positing ad hoc assumptions in order to avoid conclusions.
One wonders what the criteria for "intellectual seriousness" are when the sole topic of a comment was whether certain words with quotation marks around them were in fact quotations. As they were. And as they would be even if I had linked to Mad Magazine or one of John Loftus's sockpuppet twitter accounts.ReplyDelete
I am morally certain that Russell and Parsons offer true disjunctions (the truth tables for which neither entail the truth of particular disjuncts nor attribute belief in particular disjuncts to one's interlocutor), just as I am morally certain that when Le Poidevin says "no one says this", it does not entail "there exist lots of people who say this".
Obviously, I wasn't trying to get people who disagree with me on this to fall down like ninepins on the underlying fact of the matter (although I would certainly be suspicious if I found myself saying that almost everyone, even some highly philosophically literate people, not buying my argument was committing the exact same trivial error.) The more limited goal was simply to add my voice to the chorus telling ATites that many people are sincerely interested in what you have to say, but find it irritating to have to constantly shovel through this weird strawman accusation to get to the argument. You can still sincerely believe both that the CA is sound and that its opponents routinely make this mistake, but still agree with me on the sociological point that harping on this accusation creates an avoidable annoyance.
(As to the Eucharistic metaphysics according to which a person can have all the accidents of being sleazy, slimy, and contemptible, without being essentially sleazy, slimy and contemptible, I guess I can just chalk my misunderstanding up to my own philosophical ignorance. But again the sociological point remains: irrespective of its truth, people insufficiently schooled in Thomism are highly likely to misunderstand this kind of rhetoric as insulting.)
I'm sympathetic to Hivemaker: stupid is as stupid does; but still, no one is essentially sleazy, slimy, and contemptible, even if their arguments sometimes are. (A lot of so-called 'philosophers' (especially those damned atheists!) seem to be 'essentially' rather stupid, and this leads to them making arguments that are rather contemptible.)ReplyDelete
(...Feser's deprecating remarks about the intellectual seriousness of Rosenhouse, for example: how are those not fully justified?)ReplyDelete
I'm sympathetic to Hivemaker: stupid is as stupid does; but still, no one is essentially sleazy, slimy, and contemptible, even if their arguments sometimes are.
I myself don't feel sympathetic to Hivemaker. "The sole topic of [the] comment was [not] whether certain words with quotation marks around them were in fact quotations", but whether the quoted words applied to a human being who made an utterance, or to an utterance made by a human being. Hivemaker clearly quoted the words in such a way as to insinuate that they applied to a human being, even though it is quite clear from the context from which they were taken that they did not. Having been educated as to the correct referent of those quoted words, Hivemaker now insinuates that getting the referent right hasn't anything to do with "intellectual seriousness".
(s/b "...has little to do with 'intellectual seriousness'.")ReplyDelete
@Glenn: I didn't mean to imply that I agreed with Hivemaker on that point. (And to return to my point: Hivemaker's objectively sleazy argument on that point doesn't - pace Hivemaker - mean that he is essentially sleazy, and this is true regardless of any 'sociological' points about his inclination to interpret stuff in a philosophically inept way, e.g., being personally insulted when someone critiques his argument.)ReplyDelete
...still with the caveat: sleazy is as sleazy does (but also: 'is sleazy' doesn't imply 'is essentially sleazy')ReplyDelete
Ah. Thanks for clarifying.