Five Proofs

of the Existence of God

Philosopher Edward Feser has a new book out in which he puts forth five arguments for the existence of God. These are not the “Five Ways” of Aquinas so it might be refreshing to discuss one or all of these. At the very least this OP may introduce readers to arguments for the existence of God which they had previously been unaware of.

The five proofs are:

  • The Aristotelian Proof
  • The Neo-Platonic Proof
  • The Augustinian Proof
  • The Thomistic Proof
  • The Rationalist Proof

: The Aristotelian Proof

Chapter 1 defends what I call the Aristotelian proof of the existence of God. It begins with the fact that there is real change in the world, analyzes change as the actualization of potential, and argues that no potential could be actualized at all unless there is something which can actualize without itself being actualized—a “purely actual actualizer” or Unmoved Mover, as Aristotle characterized God. Aristotle developed an argument of this sort in book 8 of his Physics and book 12 of his Metaphysics. Later Aristotelians such as Maimonides and Aquinas developed their own versions—the first of Aquinas’ Five Ways being one statement of such an argument. These earlier writers expressed the argument in terms of archaic scientific notions such as the movement of the heavenly spheres, but as modern Aristotelians have shown, the essential kernel of the argument in no way depends on this outdated husk. Chapter 1 aims to present the core idea of the argument as it might be developed by an Aristotle, Maimonides, or Aquinas were they writing today.

: The Neo-Platonic Proof

Chapter 2 defends what I call the Neo-Platonic proof of God’s existence. It begins with the fact that the things of our experience are in various ways composite or made up of parts, and argues that the ultimate cause of such things can only be something which is absolutely simple or noncomposite, what Plotinus called “the One”. The core idea of such an argument can be found in Plotinus’ Enneads, and Aquinas gave expression to it as well. Indeed, the notion of divine simplicity is absolutely central to the classical theist conception of God, though strangely neglected by contemporary writers on natural theology, theists no less than atheists. Among the aims of this book is to help restore it to its proper place.

: The Augustinian Proof

Chapter 3 defends an Augustinian proof of God’s existence. It begins by arguing that universals (redness, humanness, triangularity, etc.), propositions, possibilities, and other abstract objects are in some sense real, but rejects Plato’s conception of such objects as existing in a “third realm” distinct from any mind and distinct from the world of particular things. The only possible ultimate ground of these objects, the argument concludes, is a divine intellect—the mind of God. This idea too has its roots in Neo-Platonic thought, was central to Saint Augustine’s understanding of God, and was defended by Leibniz as well. This book puts forward a more detailed and systematic statement of the argument than (as far as I know) has been attempted before.

: The Thomistic Proof

Chapter 4 defends the Thomistic proof of God’s existence. It begins by arguing that for any of the contingent things of our experience, there is a real distinction between its essence (what the thing is) and its existence (the fact that it is). It then argues that nothing in which there is such a real distinction could exist even for an instant unless caused to exist by something in which there is no such distinction, something the very essence of which just is existence, and which can therefore impart existence without having to receive it—an uncaused cause of the existence of things. Aquinas presented an argument of this sort in his little book On Being and Essence, and many Thomists have regarded it as the paradigmatically Thomistic argument for God’s existence.

: The Rationalist Proof

Chapter 5 defends a rationalist proof of the existence of God. The proof begins with a defense of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), according to which everything is intelligible or has an explanation for why it exists and has the attributes it has. It then argues that there cannot be an explanation of the existence of any of the contingent things of our experience unless there is a necessary being, the existence of which is explained by its own nature. This sort of argument is famously associated with Leibniz, but the version of it I defend departs from Leibniz in several ways and interprets the key ideas in an Aristotelian-Thomistic way. (Hence, while it is definitely “rationalist” insofar as it is committed to a version of PSR and to the thesis that the world is intelligible through and through, it is not “rationalist” in other common senses of that term. For example, it is in no way committed to the doctrine of innate ideas or other aspects of the epistemology associated with continental rationalist philosophers like Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. And its interpretation of PSR differs in key respects from theirs.)

For whatever reason I’m starting my reading with the rationalist proof. Because, you know, everyone here is always so rational. 🙂

332 thoughts on “Five Proofs

  1. Erik: It’s the scholastic view of science.

    That’s not really a good thing, incidentally. If you don’t agree with me, you can ask Galileo.

  2. Hi walto,

    Thank you for your response. You write:

    What makes the world spin isn’t explanations, or as you prefer, intelligibility. So it is customary to distinguish reasons – what people (or aliens) understand – from (yes, efficient) causes – the events that make other events happen. It is important to keep those separate – being from being known.

    As I’ve said, I don’t like the word “reasons,” when discussing physical phenomena, because it has connotations of an individual agent’s pursuit of a goal: “What’s your reason for studying Italian?” – “I need it for my job.” So I think the reason-cause dichotomy is misplaced. Physicists don’t invoke reasons when formulating new theories. What they try to do is come up with a set of simple concepts that can successfully account for the behavior we observe and which can make striking predictions which rival theories cannot.

    So the first question we need to ask is: can we distinguish concepts (not reasons) – or rather, conceptual frameworks (i.e. physical theories) – from causes? Yes, insofar as the former are mathematical constructs whereas the latter are actual existents.

    The next question we need to ask is: can we separate the two? Could we have a world in which causes “work,” but in an utterly inscrutable manner which is altogether impossible for any agent to conceptualize or to organize into any framework of thought? I would answer “No,” because it’s meaningless to refer to a physical event (or entity) as a cause if its manner of operation cannot be subsumed into some conceptual framework. For if a cause falls outside any conceptual framework, then it’s lawless. And the notion of a lawless physical cause is frankly occult: it leaves the notion of event-causality as an unanalyzed primitive. What would it then mean to call something a cause, and how would we go about identifying these causes? Mere correlation won’t do, as you’re well aware.

    And I might add that when physicists search for more general explanations of causal phenomena (e.g. grand unifying theories), they do actually attempt to integrate existing phenomena which were previously explained by theories A1, A2, … An, into a deeper, more fundamental framework (call it B) which incorporates all of these theories. And in so doing, they try to come up with an uber-concept which contains the concepts of the lower-level theories, and they also try to come up with more fundamental laws of nature. This is how physicists try to explain causal phenomena, at a more basic level. Causes and explanations thus go hand-in-hand, in the realm of physics, because the notion of a physical law is inseparable from the notion of event-causality.

    It may well be the case that WE don’t have a good explanation of A if we must rely on referring to B in making it, but we have no good explanation of B. But nothing about A’s existence requires any EXPLANATION at all–never mind a complete one.

    I disagree. If A itself is a composite, contingent entity, with at least some arbitrary properties, then it is perfectly legitimate to ask: what keeps it together? What keeps it in existence? And why does it have those properties instead of some other ones? The notion that only events require causes is a modern superstition. Event-causality is one kind of causation, but it need not be the only kind. Scholastics would argue (and I agree with them) that the notion of “cause” rests upon the more primitive notion of powers which inhere in an object: indeed, it is impossible to make sense of the former without the latter. But if an object’s exertion of powers can bring about a change or event in the world, then why couldn’t there be an object whose exertion of powers is able to bring about the very existence of another object?

    In sum, PSR can either be a principle about things (a causal principle) or a claim about explanations (a theory of good reasoning)–but if it is both, it is saying not one thing but two.

    On a Thomistic understanding, the principle of causality [PC] follows from the principle of sufficient reason [PSR], which is more basic. As Feser points out, regardless of whether quantum phenomena have a cause, it is undeniable that they have an underlying explanation: quantum field theory.

    What PC asserts, in Scholastic terminology, is that any actualization of a potential can only be explained by some other actualization: if an entity is able to be F (or not-F), and is currently F, then that entity’s F-ness needs to be explained by some entity’s being actually G. That’s probably quite different from how you conceive of causation, but that’s how Scholastics conceive of it.

    In any case, the point I want to make here is that causes don’t just “work”; they have to explain their effects, by virtue of the concepts (or, if you like, properties) which they instantiate, or they are not causes.

  3. walto: my point wasn’t about the way humans think, but about the world doing what IT does and thinkers doing what THEY do. What makes the world spin isn’t explanations, or as you prefer, intelligibility. So it is customary to distinguish reasons–what people (or aliens) understand from (yes, efficient) causes–the events that make other events happen. It is important to keep those separate–being from being known.

    Right. We need to distinguish causal regularities from models of causal regularities (even though models of causal regularities are also causal regularities). We need to keep a sharp eye on the distinction between being and knowing, though knowing has its own distinctive kind of being.

    Put terms of reasons and causes, reasons are a kind of cause. If reasons were not a kind of cause, it would be impossible to explain rational action without positing libertarian freedom and all the insoluble problems to which that notion gives rise. And the relation between causes that are reasons and causes that are not reasons must be — what else? — a causal relation.

  4. Kantian Naturalist and keiths,

    KN asks:

    Are you seriously claiming that if I explain rainbows in terms of differential refraction, but I haven’t explained the underlying principles of quantum mechanics, then I haven’t really explained rainbows? That my explanation of rainbows is bogus because I haven’t explained the universe?

    Quantum mechanics are not needed to explain rainbows, so your question is a little strange. What I am claiming is that if you explain rainbows in terms of differential refraction [actually, dispersion would be a better term here], and then insist on treating this as a brute fact, and even go so far as to deny that there is any more fundamental theory, then yes, your explanation of rainbows is bogus. That’s quite different from saying that you don’t know what the physical basis of differential refraction is, while adding that you believe that scientists can or will eventually figure it out.

    Consider a parent explaining rainbows to her child: “Light is actually a mixture of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Red light gets bent the least by raindrops, while violet gets bent the most.” The child asks: “Yes, but why?” The parent (not having studied much physics) answers: “I don’t know. It just does, that’s all.” If I were the child, I’d feel conned by an explanation like that, and I’m sure you would, too.

    A parent with an education in physics might add that the reason why red light gets refracted less is that red light has a longer wavelength, and a really clever parent would be able to invoke Snell’s law to explain the angle subtended by a rainbow. That’s a perfectly good explanation of the mathematical properties of a rainbow, but it takes a lot for granted: the existence of sunlight, the fact that sunlight is a mixture of rays of various wavelengths (unlike light from a laser), the existence of raindrops, their ability to internally reflect some (but not all) sunlight, the fact that raindrops are (roughly) spherical, and the sensitivity of the human eye to a limited range of wavelengths, which it perceives as colors. In the end, a complete explanation of rainbows has to account for all these facts.

    Now I can understand a parent who answers her child’s incessant “Whys” with an honest “I don’t know.” But for a parent to answer a child’s “Why?” with the science-stopper, “Because it just is, that’s all,” strikes me as an intellectual crime. And yes, it is a sham explanation.

  5. vjtorley: Now I can understand a parent who answers her child’s incessant “Whys” with an honest “I don’t know.” But for a parent to answer a child’s “Why?” with the science-stopper, “Because it just is, that’s all,” strikes me as an intellectual crime. And yes, it is a sham explanation.

    I guess you feel the same way about the similar claims made regarding the origin of your deity then. Or rather it’s lack of origin….

  6. vjtorley: But for a parent to answer a child’s “Why?” with the science-stopper, “Because it just is, that’s all,” strikes me as an intellectual crime.

    You mean like when people say, “because it was designed”?

    Yes, pretty much an intellectual crime.

    Glen Davidson

  7. KN:

    Are you seriously claiming that if I explain rainbows in terms of differential refraction, but I haven’t explained the underlying principles of quantum mechanics, then I haven’t really explained rainbows? That my explanation of rainbows is bogus because I haven’t explained the universe?

    vjtorley:

    Quantum mechanics are not needed to explain rainbows, so your question is a little strange.

    QM is needed to explain rainbows, by your own criterion. According to you, we haven’t explained rainbows if we haven’t explained the laws of classical optics. And to explain those requires QM.

  8. Vincent,

    The problem is with the following statement of yours:

    If A is explained by B, which is explained by C, which is explained by D, and D has no explanation, then have we really explained A by saying that it rests upon B, C and D? I think not.

    If a wife asks her husband how the bumper got dented, and the husband says “I wasn’t paying enough attention and I backed into a light post,” do you really think the wife is entitled to say “That’s not an explanation. You haven’t explained the pattern of neural firings that led to your lapse of attention, and you haven’t explained the laws of physics”?

    Those are legitimate questions for science, but they are not mandatory as part of an explanation for how the bumper got dented.

    ETA: I also have a question for you on the ‘evil babies’ thread.

    ETA2: Also this.

  9. Ive come in a bit late, but does anyone else think all 5 ‘proofs’ are the same ?
    They are all asserting there is a starting ‘uncaused cause’, or some variation of this.

  10. graham2:
    Ive come in a bit late, but does anyone else think all 5 ‘proofs’ are the same ?
    They are all asserting there is a starting ‘uncaused cause’, or some variation of this.

    Yes! Yeah! Mm-hmmm…
    The same uncaused cause that uncaused the universe without a beginning….
    Capish? Paniatono?

  11. graham2:

    Ive come in a bit late, but does anyone else think all 5 ‘proofs’ are the same ?
    They are all asserting there is a starting ‘uncaused cause’, or some variation of this.

    Well, they’re quite similar in that each argument appeals to God as a way of ending a regress, but the nature of the regress does vary somewhat from one argument to the next.

  12. vjtorley,

    Thanks for your detailed and interesting response, Vince. The issues surrounding scientific explanation are complex. I see some of our basic differences here, I think, but I’m not sure we can make much progress on a common understanding here. You aren’t in the northeast, are you?

  13. walto: You aren’t in the northeast, are you?

    Northeast of what? Vincent is probably still residing in Japan. He is originally from Australia.

  14. vjtorley,
    It’s what Google tells me, because I am interested that much. The question is if walto is also interested or is he in the process of another diversion.

  15. Hi keiths,

    Sorry for not responding to your questions sooner. I’ve been a bit busy lately, and to tell you the truth, I hadn’t noticed them, because I haven’t had time to read all the responses. Anyway, here goes.

    Let me take as my opening text, Matthew 19:7-8, where Jesus is responding to a question on the legitimate grounds for divorce. He astonishes his listeners by telling them, “[W]hat God has joined together, let no man separate.” His disciples immediately protest:

    7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

    8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

    Like the offensive laws you cite on rape, the law on divorce is also taken from the book of Deuteronomy (in this case, chapter 24). Note that Jesus does not ascribe the law to God, but to Moses, and he adds that the law was given to the Israelites, not because it was a good law, but purely because of their hardheartedness. In other words, bad as the law was, an even worse social outcome would probably have resulted, had such an imperfect law not been issued. In a similar vein, St. Augustine of Hippo, writing in the fifth century A.D., advocated tolerance of prostitution in his De Ordine 2.4, writing: “If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.” St. Thomas Aquinas adopted the same view.

    So if you were to ask me, “Did God issue the laws in Deuteronomy 22?”, I would have to answer, “No.” I would say that God very reluctantly permitted them as the lesser of two evils, because in the agrarian Israelite society of the first and second millennia B.C., with its property laws and laws relating to inheritance, this was about the best system that anyone could come up with, at the time.

    Christian apologist Glen Miller has written a lengthy article on the laws you cited, from Deuteronomy 22. Here’s an excerpt from his conclusion:

    So, where does this leave us?

    1. There would have been other laws operating in Israel than just the few we have in the bible on rape and virginity issues.
    2. The laws we DO have would not have been enforced crudely, stupidly, or without ‘wisdom’ for the situation.
    3. These verses are not evidence for some kind of ethical double-standard, in either the Old or New Testaments.
    4. Orderly property succession is a survival issue for sedentary communities (in which property is held privately, of course).
    5. In the ANE [ Ancient Near East – VJT], orderly property succession—for families with a wealth of property—was generally a critical matter of proven paternity of the heir.
    6. Female virginity and faithfulness in marriage was the only way to ensure proven paternity, and was thus critical to community orderliness and survival.
    7. Community legal codes created strong, over-penalties of a ‘capital’ and ‘very expensive’ nature to force community behavior into supporting the needed order and values.
    8. Actions that compromised these values (such as rape of a virgin and rape/seduction of a wife/virgin) were dealt with severely.
    9. The law codes also sought to protect the victims of violation, since the crime greatly reduced their ability to ‘help the community’ in this way, and greatly restricted their own individual future options for stability.
    10. [Some needs for heirs were met via allowable-on-an-exception-basis polygamy, but most were met by adoption of heirs into the family.]
    11. Thus, the law code treatments of rape/virginity (in the ANE) reflect more the socio-economic survival needs of the community (a high moral issue, of course), than the more general ethical and moral aspects of the crimes. (The ethical and moral aspects of the crime might not be visible in the codes at all.)
    12. The biblical verses we looked at seem to reflect more the socio-economic importance of virginity/rape than the broader ethical/moral issues (dealt with in the more ‘moral instruction’ side of Torah), and were similar to ANE codes in this regard.
    13. The biblical cases also show a concrete concern for the financial security of the woman, either violated or slandered, and implement specific protections for her (e.g., hefty mohar, guaranteed life-time financial support).

    In these cases, I think it is clear that these verses on virginity are NOT primarily about ethics or morality, but rather a practical matter of ensuring orderly continuity and succession of citizenship and protection of inter-community boundaries. As can be seen through the biblical (and ANE, by the way) data, matters of “regular ethics” get assigned more ‘matching punishments’ [cf. lex talionis]; matters of community survival get assigned ‘capital’ punishments. For the groom’s family it is a way to ensure orderly succession and continuity of care for the extended family. For the bride’s family it is a way to ensure the best possible future for the daughter. Virginity was more than simply a case of sexual purity; it had additional socio-economic impact, and this impact (common throughout the ANE) seems to be the subject/dynamic of our OT verses…

    I hope this helps place these verses into context. They are meant for the protection of the woman (as a community member) and for the protection of the community (as needing stable succession processes for survival).

    In another post, Miller notes that in the case of adultery, both parties were killed – “a fact noted by authors as being a ‘step forward’ at that time (Lev 20.10-12).”

    Regarding your other question concerning the laws on bestiality in Leviticus 20:15-16, you ask: “Why kill the innocent animals?” I think the same kind of reply could be made here. The commands were not issued by God. Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible points out that according to the Rabbinic Targum of Jonathan, a person who had sex with an animal was to be killed by stoning, the beast was killed with clubs. Why, you ask? Apparently, the reasons given in the Misnah (Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 7. sect. 4), why the beast was to be slain, are, “because ruin came to the man by means of it, and that it might not be said, as it passed along the streets, that is the beast for which such an one was stoned.” It seems that people living at that time would have found it intolerable that a beast which occasioned a stoning should live unmolested. Here, again, human hardheartedness is the underlying reason for the law.

    In short: the fact that the Pentateuch depicts God as giving a law doesn’t always mean that He was actually the author of it, or that He positively willed it. In some cases, He merely permitted such a law (which was authored not by Him, but by the Israelites), as the lesser of two evils.

    So you might be wondering: just how much of the Mosaic Law was considered truly universal and binding on the human race? The answer, of course, can be found in the Seven Laws of Noah, a.k.a. the Noachide code.

    I hope that answers your questions.

  16. Erik: Northeast of what? Vincent is probably still residing in Japan. He is originally from Australia.

    Thanks. Tough to schedule a coffee in Boston then, prolly.

  17. vjtorley,

    I quite agree that a parent’s (or teacher’s) “it just is” amounts to an intellectual sin (if you will), because it obstructs inquiry. And I take Peirce’s “do not block the way of inquiry!” very seriously indeed.

    But let us be clear: one is not blocking the way of inquiry simply by raising the logical possibility of brute facts, unexplained explainers. This is because it would still require the process of inquiry to determine if any particular fact is brute or not. And since it is always possible that we can be mistaken in which facts are brute and which ones are not, inquiry as a self-correcting process can even lead us to explore explanations for supposedly brute facts. What is taken to be a brute fact by one generation of inquirers can be a topic for inquiry and explanation by the next generation.

    On this basis, I conclude that the possibility of brute facts does not undermine the process of inquiry. But since the denial of the PSR amounts only to the possibility of brute facts, and the possibility of brute facts does not undermine the process of inquiry, then inquiry cannot depend on the PSR.

  18. Kantian Naturalist: Since the denial of the PSR amounts only to the possibility of brute facts, and the possibility of brute facts does not undermine the process of inquiry, then inquiry cannot depend on the PSR.

    In the process of inquiry, are you looking for possibilities or facts, truth? Is truth a possibility?

    To each his own of course. By the way, there’s been a written debate over these issues between Feser and Parsons.

    In the debate, Feser defends the First Cause (and PSR) and Parsons ends up affirming brute facts. I’m sure this has been posted here before and you are familiar with it, so try to find questions that have not been answered or explain why you are not happy with a given answer.

  19. Erik: In the process of inquiry, are you looking for possibilities or facts, truth? Is truth a possibility?

    Facts are true claims.

  20. Kantian Naturalist: Facts are true claims.

    At the same time in Noyau you admit you don’t know what you are talking about. And it (that you don’t know what you are talking about) must be so, because you are not answering my question. Maybe you don’t even understand the question, even though it followed directly from your own earlier claims, so maybe you did not know what you were talking about already earlier?

  21. Erik: At the same time in Noyau you admit you don’t know what you are talking about. And it (that you don’t know what you are talking about) must be so, because you are not answering my question. Maybe you don’t even understand the question, even though it followed directly from your own earlier claims, so maybe you did not know what you were talking about already earlier?

    Your question was “is inquiry aimed at possibilities or at facts?”. That question makes no sense to me, nor does it have any logical relationship to anything I’ve said thus far.

    I discussed possibilities here in the following sense: is it possible that there are facts that cannot be explained? To endorse the principle of sufficient reason is to say “no”, and to reject the PSR is to say “yes.”

    But it seems that you aren’t interested in talking about the PSR anymore.

  22. Kantian Naturalist: I discussed possibilities here in the following sense: is it possible that there are facts that cannot be explained? To endorse the principle of sufficient reason is to say “no”, and to reject the PSR is to say “yes.”

    But it seems that you aren’t interested in talking about the PSR anymore.

    Actually I linked you to something that I hoped would ring a bell, because it’s old stuff back from the days when you were still interested in everything Feser had to say. Feser’s answer begins, “You maintain in your most recent post that explanations legitimately can and indeed must ultimately trace to an unexplained “brute fact,” and that philosophers who think otherwise have failed to give a convincing account of what it would be for the deepest level of reality to be self-explanatory and thus other than such a “brute fact.” Unsurprisingly, I disagree on both counts.” And the rest of the article lists the reasons.

    To put it bluntly, to fail to explain something is always the worse option than to explain. Now please explain why you are going for the worse option.

  23. Erik: To put it bluntly, to fail to explain something is always the worse option than to explain. Now please explain why you are going for the worse option.

    I’m not. You’re not even making an effort to read what I post here.

    If the PSR is phrased as

    “Necessarily, every fact has an explanation”

    then the negation of the PSR is

    “Possibly, some facts do not have an explanation”

    and not

    “Necessarily, some facts do not have an explanation.”

  24. Kantian Naturalist,
    Whichever way it is, what makes negation of PSR better/truer than the affirmation? If all you mean is “there’s such a possibility”, then that’s just meh, as good as nothing.

  25. Erik:
    Kantian Naturalist,
    Whichever way it is, what makes negation of PSR better/truer than the affirmation? If all you mean is “there’s such a possibility”, then that’s just meh, as good as nothing.

    Again, you misunderstand the debate. It’s the rationalist defender of the PSR who is committed to denying the very possibility of brute facts. That just follows logically from the insistence that every fact must have an explanation.

    The rationalist was represented in this conversation by Torley and his quotes from Feser. The rationalist was presented as holding that we must be committed to the PSR in order to make sense of our practices of empirical inquiry.

    All that the pragmatist need do is show that we are not necessarily committed to the PSR simply by virtue of being engaged in empirical inquiry, and that is precisely what I’ve done by arguing that the practice of empirical inquiry would not be undermined if we were to reject the PSR. And all I need to do was to argue that empirical inquiry is not undermined by admitting the possibility (not necessity) of brute facts.

  26. Erik,

    You’re failing to follow KN’s argument, which is that inquiry does not depend on the PSR.

    He’s right about that.

  27. Kantian Naturalist: It’s the rationalist defender of the PSR who is committed to denying the very possibility of brute facts. That just follows logically from the insistence that every fact must have an explanation.

    Correct.

    Kantian Naturalist: The rationalist was represented in this conversation by Torley and his quotes from Feser. The rationalist was presented as holding that we must be committed to the PSR in order to make sense of our practices of empirical inquiry.

    Well, I thought you knew better than to just go by what Torley says. I thought you knew what PSR actually is, without any need for anyone to quote it for you. But now you still refuse to know better even after quoting.

    Kantian Naturalist: All that the pragmatist need do is show that we are not necessarily committed to the PSR simply by virtue of being engaged in empirical inquiry…

    Nonsense because “empirical inquiry” is not all inquiry there is. Nonsense because Torley (certainly Aristotle, St Augustine, Leibniz, etc) was not talking about “empirical inquiry”. Nonsense because PSR is not limited to empirical inquiry nor primarily about it. You should really, really know better. We are philosophy guys here.

    Kantian Naturalist: And all I need to do was to argue that empirical inquiry is not undermined by admitting the possibility (not necessity) of brute facts.

    Nonsense because, at best, all you mean here is something like “we currently have no explanation” for some empirical phenomenon. This is indecisive to assert brute facts, because you need a philosophical principle or a logical reason to convert this epistemological uncertainty into a metaphysical existent called brute fact. Bring it on.

  28. Erik, to KN:

    You should really, really know better. We are philosophy guys here.

    Do you consider yourself a “philosophy guy”, Erik? You don’t strike me as one.

    KN:

    And all I need to do was to argue that empirical inquiry is not undermined by admitting the possibility (not necessity) of brute facts.

    Erik:

    Nonsense because, at best, all you mean here is something like “we currently have no explanation” for some empirical phenomenon. This is indecisive to assert brute facts, because you need a philosophical principle or a logical reason to convert this epistemological uncertainty into a metaphysical existent called brute fact. Bring it on.

    You’re still missing KN’s point, Erik, perhaps because you aren’t a “philosophy guy”. (Or maybe your reading comprehension is just poor.)

    KN is not asserting the existence of brute facts here. He is simply pointing out that the possibility of brute facts does not undermine inquiry.

    He’s right.

  29. keiths: KN is not asserting the existence of brute facts here. He is simply pointing out that the possibility of brute facts does not undermine inquiry.

    He’s right.

    This is saying too little. He might be right in that scientists perform just fine in their own fields while knowing nothing about philosophy, but this does nothing to touch any philosophical principles or anything in the various fields of philosophy. PSR happens to be a philosophical principle. Not knowing it or not caring about it does not prevent you to pass kindergarten or even university, but this possibility or ability does not say anything about PSR in any way. It does nothing to undermine it. That’s why his argument is nonsense.

    It would be a slightly different matter if he claimed that brute facts do not undermine *philosophical* inquiry. Then I’d have to actually refute the claim, but for now outright dismissal is appropriate.

  30. Erik,

    You’re still missing the point.

    KN is responding to one of Feser’s arguments for the PSR, as presented, with commentary, by Vincent:

    D. If PSR is false, then all scientific explanations ultimately rest on some set of fundamental laws, which are just “brute facts” – which means that scientific explanations don’t really explain anything.

    This, to my mind, is the best argument. I think Feser is onto something here. If A is explained by B, which is explained by C, which is explained by D, and D has no explanation, then have we really explained A by saying that it rests upon B, C and D? I think not.

    KN and I are arguing that the possible existence of brute facts does not mean that explanations resting on them are bogus. Inquiry does not require us to assume, implicitly or explicitly, the truth of the PSR.

    Feser’s argument fails.

  31. keiths,

    I disagree with Torley that it’s the best point Feser has to offer. And KN and yourself should stop pretending as if it’s the only point about PSR to make or the most representative one. And even sticking to this particular point, you have not raised an argument against it, just a claimed possibility. Do you have an argument or reason for why your claimed possibility should get any attention whatsoever?

  32. keiths: KN and I are arguing that the possible existence of brute facts does not mean that explanations resting on them are bogus. Inquiry does not require us to assume, implicitly or explicitly, the truth of the PSR.

    Feser’s argument fails.

    Yeah that doesn’t make much sense to me either.

    I am required to explain why there is another car in my garage. I explain that a friend of mine is visiting and it is his car, he drove it here and parked in my garage. I am now required to explain why my friend drove here and parked in my garage. I invited him over and he had time off.

    You could ask more questions about why my friend would accept the invitation and so on. I give an account of that to my best understanding. Sooner or later, I hit somewhere where I no longer know the reasons why things are, or happen, the way they are/do. I have not explained everything there is to know about why there is another car in my garage, but it would be rather silly to say that I have not explained anything at all. I have in fact explained a lot.

  33. Erik: And even sticking to this particular point, you have not raised an argument against it, just a claimed possibility. Do you have an argument or reason for why your claimed possibility should get any attention whatsoever?

    Feser is the one who merely claim a possibility to begin with. He merely claims it is possible there is an explanation for everything. So all one needs to do is mention the fact that it is also possible there is NOT an explanation for everything.

  34. Rumraket,

    Do you have a standard for when your explanation is exhaustive or complete? Because establishing that standard is the value of PSR. Without that standard, the only method of explaining facts is by *endless* reference to other facts, stopping at arbitrary brute facts or, more likely, when the patience runs out.

    Rumraket: Feser is the one who merely claim a possibility to begin with. He merely claims it is possible there is an explanation for everything.

    Not in the debate with Parsons. In the debate, Parsons’ point is that God is a brute fact sort of positum, while Feser argues that it’s a self-explanatory First Cause. Neither of them talks about possibility of what they stand for. Perhaps you have been reading something else.

  35. Erik: Do you have a standard for when your explanation is exhaustive or complete? Because establishing that standard is the value of PSR.

    Either there is an explanation for everything, or there is not an expanation for everything. Do you know which one is the case? And perhaps even more importantly, do you know how to find out?

    Without that standard, the only method of explaining facts is by *endless* reference to other facts, stopping at arbitrary brute facts or, more likely, when the patience runs out.

    Yes, that is our current predicament. When do we stop? I don’t think we should stop seeking explanations. But I also think we shouldn’t just make shit up to fill in the gaps in our explanations.

    Not in the debate with Parsons. In the debate, Parsons’ point is that God is a brute fact sort of positum, while Feser argues that it’s a self-explanatory First Cause. Neither of them talks about possibility of what they stand for. Perhaps you have been reading something else.

    I have been reading some of the posts and arguments that make up this thread. Whether any of it takes from a debate between Parsons and Feser is immaterial with respect to my point.

  36. Rumraket: Yes, that is our current predicament. When do we stop? I don’t think we should stop seeking explanations. But I also think we shouldn’t just make shit up to fill in the gaps in our explanations.

    If we should not stop seeking explanations, and each time we do there is an explanation for why we stopped, then why would you say PSR is making shit up rather than brute facts are making shit up? Can you even tell the difference between the two?

    As per PSR, facts have a determinable scope (because intelligibility of the universe, a principle inseparable from PSR) and, accordingly, explanations (as propositions about facts) have to cover that scope. The concept of explanatory scope is directly derivable from and rendered intelligible with regard to PSR. If the assumed explanation covers less scope than the fact, the explanation fails to serve its explanatory purpose and it is at best a partial explanation. If it covers the scope, it is a sufficient or exhaustive explanation.

    In contrast, brute facts as something not amenable or not subject to explanation would imply a universe with facts or things whose scope is not determinable. Given such things, the proper scope of any related facts or things is not strictly determinable either, yielding arbitrary stopping points to explanations, either as brute facts or in terms of running out of patience. Given brute facts, the concept of explanatory scope would have nothing to stand on.

    Which sort of (approach to the) universe can be said to be rational? If you opt for the irrational approach, what good reason can you give for why others should prefer the same approach?

    Rumraket: Whether any of it takes from a debate between Parsons and Feser is immaterial with respect to my point.

    With respect to your point, it certainly matters whether PSR is limited to the point you are making or not. It isn’t.

  37. Erik: If we should not stop seeking explanations, and each time we do there is an explanation for why we stopped, then why would you say PSR is making shit up rather than brute facts are making shit up?

    You’re confused. I’m not saying that the PSR is making shit up, I’m saying we should not be making shit up in order to satisfy our usage of the PSR. That we should not be content with made-up explanations, but should seek the actual explanation to the best of our ability. But if we don’t know the explanation, or if we don’t know how to determine whether our explanation really is the correct explanation, we should not be afraid to admit this.

    As per PSR, facts have a determinable scope (because intelligibility of the universe, a principle inseparable from PSR) and, accordingly, explanations (as propositions about facts) have to cover that scope. The concept of explanatory scope is directly derivable from and rendered intelligible with regard to PSR. If the assumed explanation covers less scope than the fact, the explanation fails to serve its explanatory purpose and it is at best a partial explanation. If it covers the scope, it is a sufficient or exhaustive explanation.

    That’s all fine, but in many cases even having a sufficient explanation is not enough, because there are multiple possible sufficient explanations for the same phenomenon we seek to explain.

    We don’t just want “sufficient” explanations. We also want to find out if those explanations really are the correct explanations. What is actually the case.

    All concievable observations can be explained ad-hoc with “invisible fairies with magical powers did it”. So that explanation accounts for whatever it is we observe. But there are other possible explanations.

    We also prefer explanations that explain why things are the way they are. Not just what it was that caused them to be, but why they were caused to be the way they are. Why are there rocks on the ground? And why do the rocks lie in the particular pattern they do? “Fairies put them there” only answers the first one. But to answer the second, we need more.

    In contrast, brute facts as something not amenable or not subject to explanation would imply a universe with facts or things whose scope is not determinable.

    Yes. That’s what a brute fact is. Something that can’t be, or at least doesn’t actually have, an explanation.

    Given such things, the proper scope of any related facts or things is not strictly determinable either, yielding arbitrary stopping points to explanations, either as brute facts or in terms of running out of patience.

    Given brute facts, the concept of explanatory scope would have nothing to stand on.

    All that really means is that, if there are brute facts, not everything can be explained. Yes, correct. That doesn’t mean nothing can be explained. I gave an example in my previous post with a car in my garage. We don’t have to be able to explain everything, in order to explain something.

    Which sort of (approach to the) universe can be said to be rational? If you opt for the irrational approach, what good reason can you give for why others should prefer the same approach?

    You haven’t shown any approach to be irrational.

    With respect to your point, it certainly matters whether PSR is limited to the point you are making or not. It isn’t.

    I think you didn’t get my point. Again, it is just this: We don’t want made-up explanations as mere gap-fillers so we can brainlessly satisfy our adherence to the PSR, we want the actual explanations if and when we can. And if we can’t find out how to determine what, or if there is, an actual explanation for something, then we should not be afraid to admit that we don’t know. Admitting that we don’t know, is preferrable to making shit up to fill the gaps in our explanations.

  38. Rumraket: You’re confused. I’m not saying that the PSR is making shit up, I’m saying we should not be making shit up in order to satisfy our usage of the PSR. That we should not be content with made-up explanations, but should seek the actual explanation to the best of our ability.

    And how do you determine what the actual explanation is?

    Rumraket: We don’t just want “sufficient” explanations. We also want to find out if those explanations really are the correct explanations.

    So now you are not even happy with actual explanations, instead you want correct explanations. What is the relevant distinction between them? Is there any? According to PSR, the sufficient explanation, insofar as relevant to a given fact, *is* the actual correct explanation for it according to the best of our ability, our ability being yet another fact with a determinable scope.

    Rumraket: You haven’t shown any approach to be irrational.

    You mean brute facts look as good to you as PSR? Okay, now I know who I am talking to.

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