Last week I appeared on The Drew Marshall Show to discuss Five Proofs of the Existence of God. You can listen to the episode here.
Links to other recent radio and television interviews can be found here.
"One of the best contemporary writers on philosophy" National Review
"A terrific writer" Damian Thompson, Daily Telegraph
"Feser... has the rare and enviable gift of making philosophical argument compulsively readable" Sir Anthony Kenny, Times Literary Supplement
Selected for the First Things list of the 50 Best Blogs of 2010 (November 19, 2010)
If brute facts are possible, then they are true metaphysical possibilities, which means they are definable.ReplyDelete
But how can we define them? As "any possibly existing thing that exists specifically for no reason"? That's not right, since a brute fact worldview mandates that the existence of things is necessarily a brute fact. But this implies that to define a brute fact, all one needs to do is to bring up any old abstract possibility for existing things.
Which means that "red ball of such-and-such properties appearing on my left" is itself a brute fact completely defined in the realm of possibility. This means that any possibly existing object is a brute fact in the realm of possibility.
But what then grounds the actual possibilities of existing objects? Their relation to existence? But that's Thomist. Their sheer modal status as possible / the laws of logic? This would mean that either the laws of logic are the ground of brute facts - in which case logic would be the ground here - or that possibilities ground themselves due to their possibility. All of which is weird.
Well from a Thomistic perspective, God is not definable, but he certainly exists. Therefore, definability is not a condition for existence. Although, one could argue that any non-necessary fact (which brute facts are) must be definable. That is because “to define” essentially means to delineate the finite limits of something. Any possible thing is finite, therefore brute facts (being possible) must be definable. Although I feel like all of this may beg the question against a PSR denier. If a PSR denier rejects that something need be intelligible in itself, why should it have to be intelligible to us (which is what defining something would do)? It does show how anti-intellectual the brute fact view is, of course.Delete
But God does not exist in the same way any possible thing might exist. So definability is a condition for the existence of any possible thing (God is not a possible thing since He is the condition which allows for anything to be possible in the first place).
And since brute facts are possible, they are definable. Brute facts are commonly defined as, at the very least, existing objects which have no explanation for their existence. But upon further analysis, it turns out that the "no explanation for existence" part is superfluous, and that all possibilities in abstract modal space are brute facts insofar as they can exist and are related to existence. In other words, to say that something is a brute fact is to just say that it is possible for it to exist, and to say that something can possibly exist is to say that it is possibly an existing brute fact.
As for a PSR denier saying that defining brute facts is introducing a level of intelligibility which he rejects, this is impossible. A brute fact is defined negatively as something that exists for no reason - it's existence is inexplicable. For a PSR denier to reject that brute facts are definable in any way at all is pure gibberish. It would be contradicting logic, and the PSR denier wouldn't even be refering to anything at all since to refer to something presupposes it has a definition of some sort.
The PSR denier might as well say "Blue is tasty and can jump an FKGDNJISMJSDMJIDSMODSOM."
Are you also planing to write a book on Ethics?ReplyDelete
Dr. Faser, is the Eucharist not a miracle? And if it is. Why you said you haven't experienced a miracle? Please explain.ReplyDelete
Of course it is a miracle, in the sense that transubstantiation cannot occur naturally but requires special divine action. But it is obviously not the sort of thing most listeners to the show would have in mind when they hear the word "miracle." What they have in mind is something that is not only not naturally possible, but can be perceived to be something that is not naturally possible (e.g. a resurrection from the dead, the Fatima event, etc.). That's not true of the Eucharist, since what you actually observe does not seem to be miraculous.Delete
What I meant, obviously, is that I have not experienced something of that sort.
I concur with Dr. Feser. You're not giving him a charitable interpretation of his usage of the word miracle. Miracle doesn't necessarily mean supernatural event (although that is obviously core to the definition) but also includes something like a spectacle or wonder.Delete
Thank prof. FeserDelete
I did give Dr. Faser a charitable interpretation of his usage of the word miracle that's why I asked him for clarification. I'm a catholic and I'm always interested in the theism-Catholicism link and I can't wait for prof. Feser's book on motives of credibility for faith too.
The Eucharist is supernatural and thus a true miracle. Your point is confused--how can supernatural be the core of the definition of miracle but a miracle is not necessarily a supernatural event?
The common usage of the word "miracle" to mean a "spectacle" or "wonder" is hardly what philosophers mean or should mean by the term.
Of course the word "miracle" in common usage is taken in more than one sense: to a degree the different uses are analogs, but some of them are pure equivocations.Delete
For example, when a father good nurse witnesses the birth of a new baby for the first time, she may exclaim "it's a miracle". In a sense, she is right, but not in the ordinary sense, for this is an event that happens by purely natural causes and happens a million times a day throughout the world. If birth constituted a true miracle, the atheists and naturalists would have been laughed out of court ages ago. What is truly the miraculous part of a new baby is the existence of a new spiritual being, whose existence requires not only the cooperation of a man and woman in the natural order, but the action of God himself in the creation of the spiritual soul. But this event takes place not at birth, rather at the conception. However, the humanity of the new baby becomes visible and witnessed at birth, and thus in an inexact but common-sense way, the birth is perceived as a "miracle" even though it happens strictly according to natural causes. And the fact that the human nature of the baby requires God's action is not seen, but deduced, and thus is not a direct manifestation of God's presence, but indirect (and thus more disputable).
Likewise, a sentimental sort of person who witnesses the birth of a new colt may also be struck by the wonder of it all and call it a "miracle" as well. They may even have, in the back of their mind, the similarity this event has with the birth of a baby. But because the horse does not have a spiritual soul, the entire conception / birth confluence of events does not require supernatural action (apart from God's maintaining the natural order), and there is no real miracle involved at all. One part of the wonder of the event, though, is the fittingness of a vast array of small details of biology coming together to make an incredibly complex work succeed naturally, and the fittingness of all of this may be seen as a particularly apt way of seeing the hand of God in nature. This would be, though, an equivocation on the meaning of "miracle", because it is not God being manifest in the event in the proper sense of manifest (i.e. through supernatural action), but God being known naturally, which is epistemically entirely different.
So, the formal meaning of "miracle" in philosophy and theology requires not only that God act in a way that steps outside of or around the array of natural causes, but that he manifestly do so, such that his action can be seen as being beyond natural causality. (Angelic action can also be called miraculous in this sense.) And the more indisputable the event's supernatural causality, the "more miraculous" is the event called. The analogs and equivocations on "miracle" in every day speech can pick up on either the supernatural aspect, or the uncommon aspect, or the wonderfulness aspect, or the degree of disputability as from God, in naming something "miracle", without satisfying the technical definition.
The Eucharist is supernatural and thus a true miracle. Your point is confused--how can supernatural be the core of the definition of miracle but a miracle is not necessarily a supernatural event?Delete
Because being supernatural is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for something to qualify as a miracle.
Interesting interview, Dr. Feser, thanks for sharing. I think it's interesting that Drew is a "hopeful agnostic" or "red letter agnostic" yet he didn't seem to want to ask you about the proofs or arguments . He was much more interested in your story. Of course, I'm not sure how the discussion was supposed to be framed, or if Drew plans to read the book. But if he's truly seeking I hope he takes a deep dive into your book.ReplyDelete
Yeah. To be perfectly frank, it was a pretty disappointing interview.Delete
I wish Drew Marshall all the best, of course, and I hope he'll dig into the content of your book, perhaps when he's not on the air playing the part of an on-air personality.
But on-air, he seemed more interested in yukking along with his sidekick -- I think the name was Tim? -- than in engaging with what you had to say.
For example, you very clearly spelled out that "faith," as you were using the term (and as most serious Theists classically used the term from before A.D. 33 until sometime around World War I) meant "trusting what God has revealed precisely because HE has revealed it...provided that you have already exercised right-reason to be confident THAT it was He who revealed it."
Now, that's worth talking about. Is it the Biblical understanding of the word faith? (Is there only one Biblical usage, or are there multiple ones?) What criteria of right-reason are sufficient for us to know that God has spoken?
The conversation could have gotten interesting from that point.
But, no. He kinda left it lying there. He asked you some biographical questions...of a sort. But nothing went anywhere.
None of that's your fault, Dr. Feser. You seemed to be 100% on your game. But it was a disappointing interview nonetheless. It hardly matters if the guest is 100% on his game, if the host never guides the conversation towards anything really interesting, topical, or meaty.
Hey Dr. Feser,ReplyDelete
I had a question with regards to the Argument from motion. To me it seems to me that your basic argument seems to be that things in motion are going from potency to act and since things in potency do not exist (yet) then they can not cause change so motion can only be caused by something actual. However, my problem is why does anything have to account for the reduction from potency to act. I realize that Aquinas creates two irreducible terms to explain motion but what if some motions are entirely uncaused and inexplicable and therefore requires no account from either act nor potency. It seems that Aquinas has created good ground for thinking that if motion has a cause then motion would have to be caused by something in the state of actuality because beings-in-potency do not exist yet; but if motion does not have a cause or does not require an explanation then it would not need to be caused by potencies nor by beings in a state of actuality by virtue of lacking a cause. So some form of argument would have to be given that motion needs a cause to begin with before we can jump into analyzing whether the cause is in act or in potency.
That is what I view as the biggest problem to the argument from motion. If you could answer it, I would really appreciate it.
Re: "but what if some motions are entirely uncaused and inexplicable and therefore requires no account from either act nor potency."Delete
Thomists would deny that is possible. It simply doesn't make sense to speak of a *change* that is *inexplicable* or *entirely uncaused*. It's no use to just posit, "For all we know, there might be some change that is inexplicable with no cause."
You would need to give a reason or example to think that is possible. However, any reason you give is likely to deny the principle or sufficient reason which would undercut science and reasoning in general as Dr. Feser has argued in various places (for instance Ch. 5 of Five Proofs).
Re: "It simply doesn't make sense to speak of a *change* that is *inexplicable* or *entirely uncaused*."Delete
Why is that out of the realm of possibilities?
Re: "It's no use to just posit, "For all we know, there might be some change that is inexplicable with no cause."
Well, I mean, it seems plausible that at least on the more fundamental levels of an essentially-ordered series, it would be possible.
Re: "However, any reason you give is likely to deny the principle or sufficient reason which would undercut science and reasoning in general"
I have never heard Dr. Feser or anybody for that manner use the PSR to defend the causal principle in the argument from motion.
That suggests you are not familiar with Dr. Feser’s work or any Thomists since Leibniz (who was the first person to explicitly coin “The Principle of Sufficient Reason”, although he was a rationalist, not a Thomist).Delete
As far as bottom level physics are concerned, it’s just as likely that top level physics wouldn’t have an explanation as bottom level physics if PSR is false.
The Argument from Motion does not rest on the PSR.Delete
If the PSR is false, there are things that don't have explanations.Delete
That in and out of itself doesn't say anything about how likely/unlikely it is for other things to have explanations.
Anyway, if the PSR holds in every case, every detail of creation is necessary. God would have no "choice" to create or not create or to create something different.
"what if some motions are entirely uncaused and inexplicable"Delete
Its a self-defeating conclusion to consider. It would be like denying that change or motion occurs at all. If you become convinced of that, then you changed your mind about it which proves change occurs. If you think inexplicable motion or chamge is possible, then your very change in thought about considering this is now open to that. If the potential you have to think this is possible (or to think anything) is inexplicably actualised, then you cannot even trust that you are thinking rationally. You could just be thinking whatever thought is actualised and it could all just be completely uncaused and inexplicable. If Feser gave you an answer, you couldn't confirm whether you accepting or rejecting his answer was due to logical reasoning or that thinking you reasoned to the conclusion was actualised inexplicably.
It's far worse than that though because everything would go out the window. Everything becomes a mystery, and we couldn't even rationally justify believing that everything is a mystery either. Its all self-defeating. You let it in just a bit and everything comes crashing down.
"That is what I view as the biggest problem to the argument from motion."
The question you asked could be asked of literally any idea that tries to give an explanation of anything at all. All enquiry in to anything (from science to ethics to whatever) becomes futile, even enquiry in to whether things are inexplicable too.
I assume you probably don't consider it in any other case, so why only the argument from motion?
Yes it does. That term might not have been coined then and the argument might focus on the relation between substances instead of states-of-affairs but it does depend on the truth of the PSR. If one accepts realism about properties the First and Second Way can be read as causal analogs to the strong and weak PSR respectively.Delete
First Way: there is an explanation for the existence of any contingent being, where being is taken in a wide sense to include property-instances (accidents) that come about as a result of change.
Second Way: there is an explanation for the existence of any contingent substance.
I'm curious, now that you've written Five Proofs (which was excellent, btw), are you finished writing Natural theology?ReplyDelete
Cringe-worthy interviewer, imo.ReplyDelete
He seemed more interested in himself than in anything else.Delete
Cringeworthy to say the least.Delete
Normally gobble up any audio of professor Feser I can get my grubby little hands on. This one missed the mark. Although a three hour chit chat with Joe Rogan might not be a bad idea.ReplyDelete
Have your book sales made you a millionaire yet?ReplyDelete
You deserve the big bucks, buddy.
I think Anselm did a good thing with his proof. Kant attacked it an Hegel stuck up for it. Things were unclear until Godel put the whole thing into simple logical form. I tried to reinforce it with another theorem of Godel.ReplyDelete
It's to good ole' Duns Scotus we owe the concept of 'pure perfections' that play the central role in modal perfection arguments (though Godel got them from Leibniz).Delete
The Thomist criticism of the ontologica argument is either plain question-begging (even Graham 'sling as much mud and some of its got to stick right guys? Oppy admits it's a dead duck) or relies on very specific deep level metaphysical specifics of the Thomist system. As well as the crude empiricist dictum that the object of the intellect is the quiddity of the material thing I'd finger the identification of real definitions with statements of genus and differentia and the relation of the later to matter and form composition.
I had forgotten that Aquinas did think the proof was not so solid. In any case I tend to think well of the kinds of medieval proofs that focus more on the First Cause.Delete
This is the theorem I meantReplyDelete
[(Compactness Theorem). A set of formulas Γ is satisfiable if and only if every finite subset of Γ is satisfiable.][From the finite to the infinite. Perhaps the simplest use of the Compactness Theorem is to show that if there exist arbitrarily large finite objects of some type, then there must also be an infinite object of this type.] [Mathematical Logic ch 4 and ch 9]http://euclid.trentu.ca/math/sb/pcml/pcml-16.pdf
Hello Dr. Feser,ReplyDelete
I have a question regarding the noe-platonic proof from composition. From my understanding, the proof infers an entity which must be absolutely simple from the analysis of composite things. Basically, the existence of a composite thing presupposes the existence of its composite parts and the correct arrangement of those parts. If the parts themselves are composite them we have the same problem. We can iteratively break a thing up into its parts (including its metaphysical parts) until we reach to something that is utterly simple. We are not actually breaking things into parts but merely deducing that they exist. I believe I have oversimplified the argument a bit but this should be sufficient to establish my question.
Suppose we have some composite object C. Then we know that C has parts but the number of parts cannot be equal to one otherwise we are just talking about the whole. It also does not make sense to say that the number of parts is less than one. The number of parts must be a whole number since we are looking at whole parts as something other than just a. part of the whole. In other words, it makes no sense to say that the number of parts is one half or the imaginary number i. Therefore the number of parts must be an integer greater than one. So if we start by considering a single composite object then end up with at least two parts or more. If those parts are composite them we end up with at least four parts. We inevitably end up with at least (2^n) 2 to the power on n parts where n is the number of divisions made. We know that the exponential function of two is monotonically increasing. So whatever terminates this series must be a set of parts greater than one seeing that we are starting with a single composite object and then breaking it down at least once. So our utterly simple object must be numerous but you have shown that the utterly simple object must be unique. So we have two contradictory notions when we try to unpack the nature of this utterly simple object which means that it is an intrinsically incoherent idea. Unless there was an error in my reasoning or an error in yours. I am new to this argument and your book is the first treatment of it which I have been exposed to. That being said I think the argument for the existence of an utterly simple object is impeccable. I suppose you can see the dilemma I am in. I see no other way to explain the existence of composite things and the existence of composite things is as self-evident as they come. In the absence of an alternative way to explain the existence of composite things, I am stuck with an incoherent idea. Clearly, I must have miss understood something. I will greatly appreciate any clarification that I can get.
Thanks for your time!
"We inevitably end up with at least (2^n) 2 to the power on n parts where n is the number of divisions made. We know that the exponential function of two is monotonically increasing"Delete
If I understand you, you are saying that any composite must have at least two parts, and therefore no matter how far we go down, there must be at least two parts, even at the most basic level. So at this basic level, if there is only one part, then the object is not composite and this reverberates up the chain so nothing is composite. So since there are composite objects, it means there itd atleast two all the way down. Is that right?