"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)
Friday, August 6, 2021
Oppy on Thomistic cosmological arguments
“Oppy on Thomistic cosmological arguments” has just been published in the latest issue of the journal Religious Studies. (It’s behind a paywall, sorry.) It is a reply to all of the criticisms Graham Oppy has leveled over the years against arguments of that sort, not only in his Religious Studies article on my Aristotelian proof, but also in his books Arguing about Gods and Naturalism and Religion and elsewhere. (Regular readers will recall the two YouTube exchanges I had with Oppy on the program Capturing Christianity, which you can view here and here.)
can't comment on what you can't read.ReplyDelete
But, you can! Buy it! Not everything is free and it is worthy.Delete
It won't let me purchase. I keep getting an error message.Delete
Dr. Feser, would you consider writing a blog post, or even a book if warranted, on the subject of reasoning from this Unactualized Actualizer towards Catholicism? How did you personally conclude the Bible is true? Why not stop at this Unactualized Actualizer and call yourself a deist?ReplyDelete
I'm agnostic myself, and I've been reading The Last Superstition. Though-provoking stuff in there. And I believe many of your readers would love to hear you out on your full journey, rather than just the one from this Unactualized Actualizer to its/His many divine attributes.
You might want to read "Thinking About God " by Rev. Dr.Brian Davies, O.P.
He will take you on that "full journey." He teaches at Fordham University. I have emailed him in the past. Dr Peter Kreeft "Handbook of Christian Apologetics" is also good..An Amazon search will lead you to other books on Christian Apologetics. "Foundations of A Christian Worldview" by William Lane Craig is another
I believe Ed has indicated he's planning on writing a book in defense of Catholicism at some point further down the line.Delete
He has written an article covering precisely that if you're curious, it's published in "Faith and Reason: philosophers explain their turn to catholicism" by Brian BesongDelete
A book on Catholicism will come, but (sadly) after a book on the soul and another on sexual morality.Delete
Feser has said he is writing just such a book, but has books on the immortality of the soul and on sexual morality planned first.Delete
For what it’s worth, this is my simplistic description of why people can’t see the self evident. There are many reasons why people don’t believe, which often reinforce each other as assumptions.Delete
One part is a poor understanding of the historicity and context of Jesus as an historical figure. This is partly driven by academics in the 18th/19th century, whose bad reasoning has continued in to modern universities. More rational evaluations look at the whole, such as this book - https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2016/05/17/lord-not-legend-a-review-of-brant-pitres/
Another big factor is assumed physicalism as an ontology. This goes back 400 years to the likes of Descartes and Galileo, where reality was split in two. Eventually the reality of representation became the only valid reality, and everything else became “subjective illusion”. Now physicists tied to this unhealthy ontology make ever more absurd assumptions to retain the illusion of this false divide, including inventing countless trillions of universes every millisecond.
All these mistaken assumptions then leave people unable to deal with the suffering that fills the world. Once the physical is all there is, and this life the totality of our existence, then suffering makes no sense. No good god would create creatures that have to sometimes spend most of their existence suffering.
So you have multiple layers of error that have built up over the past few centuries. It’s like a reflection of the centuries after Jesus’ life, where it became self evident to most that he represented the closest connection to truth that we would ever have.
The same errors also played a role the protestant “reformation”, not helped by a church now so powerful and rich that it attracted people not primarily interested in it’s raison d’etre. Nonetheless, this added new errors to that which had been handed down, which then fed into the first point around Jesus as a historical figure.
So you have errors on the horizontal of history, and errors on the vertical of ontology and epistemology, and so the cross no longer has a centre. Without a centre, there is no way, no light, no truth, nothing to be lifted up, to lift us up.
So we end up with relativism and absurdism, and various versions of those which explicitly or implicitly underpin the worldview of the modern mindset.
Wow, Simon Adams, you are really cudgeling those skeptics with a heavy cudgel.Delete
I don't detect any arguments in your post. It's all assertions. But assert ad libitum.
Ed addresses that in the Five Proofs on pg. 236. Deist conception of God is that God creates the world but doesn't conserve it in being and doesn't ever interfere in the normal workings of the natural order, all of which is inconsistent with classical theism.Delete
Getting to Christianity involves historical study about the historicity of Jesus, the Gospels, and the Resurrection, then studying the history of Christianity to show that Catholicism is the most faithful continuation of the Church handed down from the Apostles.
@ficino4ml It was just intended as a broad outline of the context that lead to me becoming an atheist at one point in my life. If I trace the threads back, these are some of the main knots that underpinned my convictions at the time.Delete
If there is a specific area where a specific argument would be useful to clarify, just let me know.
@Simon Adams: from what you wrote above, I am guessing that you returned to theism partly because life/everything (?) seemed meaningless on a non-theistic worldview. You wrote: "Once the physical is all there is, and this life the totality of our existence, then suffering makes no sense."Delete
Or did you have other reasons for jettisoning atheism and returning to theism? I say "returning" because you said you became an atheist at one point in your life, as though you were previously a theist.
I'm not asking you to write a long post. But if you had reasons for returning to theism other than a sense that there must be a meaning for which physicalism does not provide grounds, then I'd appreciate a list or other short enumeration of them.
Belief in an unactualized actualizer makes one a theist, not a deist. It entails various attributes which are incompatible with deism. These are described in the Five Proofs book and by many other writers. Going from being a theist to being a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim, requires being a theist and assenting to a specific anthology of normative writings as the revelation of God. The anthologies differ within different communities. There is more to it than this but that is a good start.
Does it only cover Stage 1 (getting to a first cause/purely actual being) or does it cover Stage 2 as well (arguing for divine attributes)?ReplyDelete
A pity it's behind a paywall, it seems like an important article.
You can probably find the journal in a college library. You don't need to be a student to read it.Delete
Good idea! My university still grants me online access to journals. The newest edition of Religious Studies should be making its way in there soon!Delete
What would be the relationship between mathematical infinities and God's infinity? Especially the larger cardinal axioms and such? And especially if there are infinitely many large cardinal axioms which go on forever, though that's controversial?ReplyDelete
Some even want to say that the mathematical universe V isn't all there is, either through multiverse theory in math, or through expanding beyond V via recursion as seen in this: https://mathoverflow.net/questions/100981/ultrainfinitism-or-a-step-beyond-the-transfinite
And how would God's mind contain all of those things? I guess by saying all intelligible things - and everything in math is intelligible by definition - are rooted in God's mind, just as the concept of all can be applied to all things, even the infinite amount of large cardinal axioms, and the endlessness of math which we can even say isn't bound by V?
Also, what is God's relation to the concept of all? For example, if God knows all things, this means the concept of all applies to all of intelligibility. But does this concept apply to God Himself?ReplyDelete
If not, does this make coherent sense? On one hand you could argue yes since God is not an intelligible idea or definition, but infinitely transcendent of all ideas. On the other hand, God knows Himself, so is He under the concept of all? If so, would this make Him lesser since He falls under a greater concept?
"What would be the relationship between mathematical infinities and God's infinity? Especially the larger cardinal axioms and such?"Delete
I remember William Lane Craig responding to a similar comparison by saying that mathematical infinity is a quantitative concept and God infinity a qualitative one. It seems a good reply to me.
"And how would God's mind contain all of those things?"
I can't describe exactly how His mind works, but Aquinas would say that God knows itself perfectly and so all the ways that the divine essence could be imited, which would be every possible thing. This in one divine act, like how you can understand two or more concepts at the same while comparing they.
"Also, what is God's relation to the concept of all?"
I mean, God does know the concept but it is just a concept, a mental group, so there is no limitation in being part of the concept. It is like saying that God is limited because He is under the group of the worshiped or the ones mentioned on the Bible.
Are you asking if to know all things involves God knowing Himself+other things? If so, this is not how He knows things, He knows all things by virtue of knowing His own essence primarily and all other things as mere participations of His existence. But also, to lump all things together is just to create a conceptual category, not to posit something real in existence, just like how there is no existing thing called “the group of the sun and the moon” although we can artificially create such a conceptual group. So no, creating a category of “God+other things” and having God be in that category does not subordinate God to that. However, if we claimed God was in a REAL category, as in there are many entities who share God’s nature as many lions share one nature, then we would be subordinating Him. But there is no way for there to be two things which share the purely actual nature of God.Delete
I might just drop 25 bucks.ReplyDelete
Majesty of Reason already has a response.ReplyDelete
Yes, Schmid, on the main, agrees with Feser's criticisms of Oppy but insists that Feser has not justified any of his defenses of Thomism.Delete
The Secret King strikes back.Delete
To be fair Joe already did the criticism he could, and a bit more, now he pretty much just has to read the article and do some comments.Delete
@Talmid. Schmid must be on a Feser watch or something. It seems the instant Feser says anything about Thomism, Schmid races to post a reply three seconds after Feser's post. He seems to have a real need to prove himself superior to Feser. He could have easily let this slide since by his own admission, Oppy's argument doesn't interest him. That telling remark is all one needs to know about what motivates him.Delete
That is true, Dr. Feser already consider their exchange settled and Joe should do the same.Delete
Dude is young and probably has a lot of young guys pestering him to respond to anything a classical theist does that look dangerous and they can't refute. I do see that a lot in some philosophy youtube channels.
How does one buy this article? I keep trying and it fail?ReplyDelete
Go to a college library and read it for freeDelete
I don't have time & College Libraries aren't exactly open to the public these days especially with the "Virus of unspecified origin". I'll find a work around....Delete
where I live the college libraries are open for now.Delete
may not last long. in the 12 bed ICU where I work half of our patients have the delta variant of Covid.
Son of yakov, I can email it to you.Delete
If I did that I might cheat Feser oot of his payday and I can't do that. But thanks anyway. I get around to buying it. Maybe the website just hates my Chromebook?Delete
Liked what you said here. I think FPEG gives good basic layouts of the argument to be further considered. I don’t think people are used to the method of your writing, which seems to borrow from scholasticism more than analytic tradition in that it appeals to acceptable statements rather than always being in the nitty gritty. It asks for more contemplation rather than expecting things laid out fully. Your elaborations on EI were very helpful to me from this article. Thank you!ReplyDelete
I logged in and now they don't want to take my card. It worked before.ReplyDelete
There is a typo in the existential inertia sectionReplyDelete
"or now we need to ask what it is that makes it the case that the protons, neutrons, and elections..."
Good lord - this is just a devestating passage against brute fact arguments.ReplyDelete
"The problem with this interpretation is that the critic was supposed to be giving us an alternative explanation to the claim that a composite thing requires an external sustaining cause. And to say that it is simply a brute fact that A and B stay together is not to offer an alternative explanation, but rather to offer no explanation at all."
How about these objections by a 20th century Muslim philosopherReplyDelete
(Muhammad Iqbal, "The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam", Stanford University Press 2012, pg. 23)
SCHOLASTIC philosophy has put forward three arguments for the existence of God. These arguments, known as the Cosmological, the Teleological, and the Ontological, embody a real movement of thought in its quest after the Absolute. But regarded as logical proofs, I am afraid; they are open to serious criticism and further betray a rather superficial interpretation of experience.
The cosmological argument views the world as a finite effect, and passing through a series of dependent sequences, related as causes and effects, stops at an uncaused first cause, because of the unthinkability of an infinite regress. It is, however, obvious that a finite effect can give only a finite cause, or at most an infinite series of such causes. To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an uncaused first cause, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds. Further, the first cause reached by the argument necessarily excludes its effect. And this means that the effect, constituting a limit to its own cause, reduces it to something finite. Again, the cause reached by the argument cannot be regarded as a necessary being for the obvious reason that in the relation of cause and effect the two terms of the relation are equally necessary to each other. Nor is the necessity of existence identical with the conceptual necessity of causation which is the utmost that this argument can prove. The argument really tries to reach the infinite by merely negating the finite. But the infinite reached by contradicting the finite is a false infinite, which neither explains itself nor the finite which is thus made to stand in opposition to the infinite. The true infinite does not exclude the finite; it embraces the finite without effacing its finitude, and explains and justifies its being.
Logically speaking, then, the movement from the finite to the infinite as embodied in the cosmological argument is quite illegitimate; and the argument fails in toto. The teleological argument is no better[...]
I think there are various ways to respond to your post, but I would suggest looking into the various principles that underpin Aquinas's thinking. For example, the principle of proportionate causality (the emminent version in particular), the four causes, the concept of analogy, and hierarchical causality, to name a few. Do you have a grasp of these principles? Or rather, does the book you quote from mention them at all? If not, then I would suggest they don't have the basic understanding of Aquinas's thinking needed to formulate valid criticisms.
Analogy in particular, is key to understanding how Aquinas bridges the gap from finite to infinite.
For an introduction to some of these ideas, I would start with Ed's Intro to Aquinas.
Besides these concepts that Daniel cited, the diference between a essencially ordered casual series and a acidentally ordered one is also very important. See this, for instance:Delete
"To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an uncaused first cause, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds."
While any good cosmological argument, incluiding the Kalam, does not contradict the law of causation when postulating the first cause, if you get the casual series distinction and how Aquinas five ways use it them it is easy to see why this objection just misses the point.
While this does not focus in Aquinas in particular, it is a very helpful post on the subject: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html?m=1
But besides this post it would really be very good to study the concepts that i and Daniel cited and how they relate to Aquinas tought. Dr. Feser does have a lot of cool post on they all, i think.
Thank you both. Admittedly, Muhammad Iqbal, the author of that passage, is only dealing with these scholastic arguments in a passing fashion. He's writing in the early 20th century with a view to reconciling Islam with modern thought, so he seems to take for granted the obsolescence of medieval categories...Delete
I'm not sure Iqbal's statement there doesn't also apply to hierarchically / essentially ordered series of causation, in addition to sequentially / accidentally ordered series... Even in the case of a hierarchical series of causation, where we reason from more metaphysically extraneous aspects or properties to the most essential forms and substances underlying them : what right do we have, logically speaking, to arbitrarily stop at this uncaused self-subsisting substance ? Because of the "unthinkability of an infinite regress", as Iqbal suggests? But to posit a metaphysical backstop to the problem inherent in the notion of causation (which necessarily includes both 'cause' and 'effect') seems unwarranted even in the case of 'vertical' causation (reasoning from species to genus all the way up to the highest conceivable genus). Why not just admit that the notion of 'cause' has limited applicability, and when it comes to the infinite it no longer logically applies? I.e. to invent a prime cause or ultimate cause to explain away the fact that causation is inherently a limited and continuating idea, is a metaphysical sleight of hand.
OK, so here is my direct response:Delete
“The cosmological argument views the world as a finite effect, and passing through a series of dependent sequences, related as causes and effects, stops at an uncaused first cause, because of the unthinkability of an infinite regress.”
This gives the impression that scholastics are merely asserting the impossibility of an infinite regress without providing arguments. This impression is wrong. It also uses jargon that Aquinas and others do not use, so it appears to be merely a caricature. The way Aquinas formulate the argument is to talk about the theory of act and potency. So anything that is finite is a composite of act and potency. The potency specifies the essence of a thing – its limitation. Along with this notion is the idea that whatever is moved, must be moved by another. In other words, a potentiality in a thing can only be brought into actuality by something that is already in actuality.
Now, an accidentally ordered series of causes can go on, theoretically, to infinity. But an essentially/hierearchically ordered series cannot go on to infinity. It must end at a being that is not a composite of act and potency, but is pure act.
“It is, however, obvious that a finite effect can give only a finite cause, or at most an infinite series of such causes.”
Why is this obvious? What arguments does he give? This appears to be merely an assertion.
“To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an uncaused first cause, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds.”
How so? Aquinas would agree that this is true for accidentally ordered series, but not for essentially or hierarchically ordered series. Think of it as a sustaining cause that must be there to actualize anything at all at any given moment of time. Think of all the things that must be in existence for you to exist right now. You need oxygen. You need atoms. You need protons, neutrons, and electrons. You need the laws of physics being just so. You need the sun. You need the earth. All of these things must be actualized for you to exist. And all of them exist in a dependent chain of actualizers that cannot go on to infinity, in any given moment of time. They must bottom out into something that is purely actual. Something that is not a composite of act and potency, but just is pure actuality.
“Again, the cause reached by the argument cannot be regarded as a necessary being for the obvious reason that in the relation of cause and effect the two terms of the relation are equally necessary to each other. ”
Here we bring in the concept of proportionate causality. And this is formulated as “effects must be proportionate to their cause and principles”. In some cases, the cause and effect are equal to each other. Such as flame causing flame. In Aquinas’s terms, you would say the form of flame passes on the exact same form to the thing it is burning. In other cases, the effect is eminently in the cause. For example, in the case of the house pre-existing in the mind of the builder. It does not formally exist in the mind of the builder, but only in abstraction. The effect exists more excellently or perfectly in the cause than in the effect – this is the eminent version of proportionate causality. And eminent causality usually resides in beings with intelligence. Such that fire does not exist in the human person, but the intellectual knowledge of the universal fire and how to produce it does exist there.
So here you have finite beings capable of knowing infinite things, such as universal concepts, that will be true and real, wherever they are instantiated in the physical world. Here you are arriving at something like Plato’s forms. But Aquinas does not locate them in some third realm. He follows Augustine who locates them in the mind of God, but stripped of limitation.
“The argument really tries to reach the infinite by merely negating the finite. ”Delete
Well yes. This is the apophatic way. You strip away all that is limited to get at some grasp or what God is. And there are things or names that can be ascribed to God this way, at least at the level of the most general or the most transcendental. These we call being, oneness, truth, and goodness.
“But the infinite reached by contradicting the finite is a false infinite, which neither explains itself nor the finite which is thus made to stand in opposition to the infinite. ”
This is false. Through eminent proportionate causality, we catch a glimpse of God’s eternal, unlimited, omnipotence, omniscience, through the transcendentals. Specifically those of truth and being.
“The true infinite does not exclude the finite; it embraces the finite without effacing its finitude, and explains and justifies its being.”
There is an infinite gap between God and creation, that only analogy can bridge. Such that being in a rock, is only an analogy of being in vegetation, which is only an analogy of being in animals, which is only an analogy of being in humans, which is only an analogy of being in angels, which is only an analogy of being in God.
“Logically speaking, then, the movement from the finite to the infinite as embodied in the cosmological argument is quite illegitimate; and the argument fails in toto. ”
This is merely an assertion without actually grasping the fundamental principles of Aquinas’s thinking. It asumes univocal uses of terms and rejects or appears to be unaware of Aquinas's concept of analogy.
I had no intention of personally refuting Muhammad, only to give you the resources to understand the classical cosmological arguments. Being honest, he, as Daniel shows, seems to have a very bad grasp of what a Aquinas or a Avicenna understood as a cosmological argument and understanding these thinkers would help show why this is relevant.
While i actually do think that the Kalam is a cool argument, most cosmological arguments before the modern era are very diferent from it and Muhammad seems to only know something like Dr. Craig Kalam. Read the post from Dr. Feser that i linked before, he does briefly sketch some of the classics out.
Besides this post, take a look on a few post here about classical theism and you will probably get why we do not "invent" a primary cause. I agree that one can't just pick a member and say "he has no cause and that is it!", that is just a silly straw-man, at least when dealing with the older, better and sexier view know as classical theism.