An Appraisal of Aquinas’ First Way: Eternalism Contra Act and Potency? (Part 3)

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In the following parts of the series, I will present and assess the merits of a number of objections to Aquinas’ argument. It is important to understand the background of the argument before undertaking an analysis of objections, so if you have not checked them out, I would suggest reading Part 1 and Part 2. For each objection, I shall explicate the reasoning behind the objection, followed by an “assessment” section which evaluates the efficacy of the objection in question. Without further ado, let’s examine the first criticism leveled against Aquinas.

Objection

The argument from change presupposes the falsity of eternalism and the truth of an A-theory of time. For consider that, under eternalism, all times are equally actual. Eternalism, in other words, entails the falsity of temporal becoming. It thereby denies the conjunction of the following theses: (a) one temporal state of reality is actual, (b) a future temporal state of reality is not actual (i.e. merely potential), and (c) there is a successive transition from actual temporal states of reality to future temporal states of reality, such that (i) the future states were merely potential, and (ii) the future states become actual. Without the conjunction of these three theses, though, the argument fails. For if (b) is false, then it is false that future temporal states are not actual (i.e. merely potential). But that means that future temporal states are already actual, in which case any change from a present state to a future state does not consist in the actualization of a potential state. P2, then, would be false. But if (c) is false, then there is no transition from actual states to potential states after all, even supposing (for the sake of argument) that there are merely potential states to begin with. But without there being any transition from actual to potential, then either P2’s analysis of change is false, or if P2 is true, then change itself does not exist (and P1 is false). Either way, the argument is unsound. Finally, the argument requires (a) since if no temporal state of reality is actual, then all temporal states of reality are either merely potential or (if they’re not even merely potentially existent) impossible (since something can only be possible if it has the potential to exist). But if all temporal states of reality are either merely potential or impossible, then since change requires a changer which is itself in a state of actuality (per P4), it follows that no temporal change exists after all. In that case, though, the justification for premise one is undercut, since the world of our experience consists of temporal things, and Aquinas explicitly adduces the evidence of our experience as demonstration of premise one.

From the preceding analysis, therefore, the argument’s success requires the conjunction of (a), (b), and (c), since the falsity of any one of them casts doubt on the argument’s cogency. But if eternalism is true, then arguably both (b) and (c) are false. This is because eternalism entails that the future is not merely potential but as equally actual as the present (and hence entails the falsity of (b)). Eternalism also entails that objective, successive, temporal becoming or transitioning is not a real feature of reality, in which case (c) is false as well

The fact that the argument from change presupposes the truth of an A-theory of time and the falsity of B-theories of time is (one may argue) by itself enough to make the argument unconvincing. If an argument A presupposes proposition P, but P is wholly unjustified (at least in the dialectical context at hand), then it seems A (or at least the conclusion of A) is itself unjustified (i.e. not sufficiently warranted by reasoning). For instance, if I argue that fine-tuning evidence shows a designer of the universe exists, but my argument merely presupposes that there is any fine-tuning evidence in the first place without justifying this presupposition, then my argument itself is unjustified (or, again, at least the conclusion of my argument). Hence, without justifying the falsity of eternalism, it seems Aquinas’ argument is not sufficiently warranted.

If, however, eternalism is in fact true, then the argument from change is not only unwarranted, but unsound. And, one may argue, there are good reasons for thinking eternalism is true. For suppose eternalism is false. Then, all times are not equally actual, i.e. some times are merely potentially existent. But for all times t, there are t-indexed truths (i.e. truths making essential reference to time t). This follows from the law of non-contradiction (LNC): for any proposition P, P is either true or its negation is true. Since for all times t, there is a t-indexed proposition to the effect that “at t, x exists”, and since per the LNC this proposition is either true or its negation is true, and since a negation of a t-indexed proposition is itself t-indexed, it follows that for all times t, there are t-indexed truths. But truths require actually existent facts or states of affairs that serve as truthmakers. That is, there must actually be something in virtue of which a given true proposition is true; the truth must correspond to something in actual reality. But if, for all times t, there are t-indexed truths, and if truths require actually existent facts or states of affairs that serve as truthmakers, then for all times t, there are actually existent temporal facts or states of affairs at t. In other words, for all times t, there are actual temporal things at t. But that entails that there are no merely potential temporal states, since if there were a merely potential temporal state, then there would be at least one t such that there is no actual temporal fact or state of affairs at t (thereby contradicting what we previously derived). Therefore, there are no merely temporal states. All temporal states are, therefore, equally actual. But that is just to say that eternalism is true. Hence, eternalism is true. In that case, though, the argument from change is unsound. Therefore, the argument from change is unsound.

Assessment

Importantly, this objection from eternalism assumes that the only changes that exist are changes that are temporally extended processes. The objection, in other words, argues that because the existence of temporally extended changes (understood as actualizations of future potentials) entail that future times are not as equally actual as present times, and because eternalism entails that this is false, there cannot be temporally extended changes understood in act/potency terms. Crucially, though, Aquinas’ argument does not require the existence of temporally extended processes of change. All it requires is the mere existence of change and an analysis of change as the actualization of a potential. But this does not require future potentials being actualized. Arguably, there are purely present, instantaneous actualizations of potentials that do not require any future temporal states of reality to be merely potentially existent. Consider the example of a flower pot being sustained in mid-air right here, right now. Or consider two books, each leaning up against the other at the present moment. Or even consider a foot impressing upon the sand at a single moment. In each of these cases, we have some cause impinging upon its effect at a single instant. No durational, extended process is required in order for these cases to count as causation and (since causation is a kind of change) change. In each of these cases, there is a concurrent cause which is sustaining or actualizing a given state at a single instant, in which case there are actualizations of potentials (and hence “change” in a concurrent, instantaneous sense) that neither require nor entail extended processes through time wherein future states are merely potential. The actualizers in such cases are not temporally prior to the potentials that they actualize. Instead, they are in some sense causally or ontologically prior to the potentials. From this, we can see that the argument is, after all, compatible with eternalism, since the actualization of potential is not necessarily a temporally extended, linear process.

Moreover, this sort of ontological or causal priority is precisely the sense in which Aquinas seeks to motivate his argument. For consider his example of a chain of changes: “…subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand.”8 By means of this example, Aquinas is emphasizing that the chains of changes with which he is concerned are ones in which less fundamental members of the chain move only insofar as they are moved by more fundamental members. That is to say, their motion or change is derivative from the changing activity of other members. This is seen most forcefully in the case of the staff moved by the hand. Importantly, the staff has no power on its own to move in this specific regard. Any change or motion it makes in this regard, therefore, must be derived wholly from without. Does it derive its motion in such a case from the hand? Well, the hand itself is being moved, at this instant, by certain neuromuscular firing patterns. The hand, by itself, is utterly powerless to move the staff unless it derives this power from a more fundamental member. But are the neuromuscular firing patterns the most fundamental member in this chain? It seems not, since these are only moving the hand insofar as their biochemical components are arranged, ordered, and changing in the precise manner in which they are, which in turn derive their changing power from (i.e. are actualized by) the more fundamental molecular changers, which in turn derive their changing power from atomic changers, which in turn derive their changing power from changers at the subatomic level. In each layer of this causal chain, we have a more fundamental member (changer) actualizing the state of the less fundamental layers. Importantly, this is not a series ordered throughout time, but is rather occurring at a single moment in time. Even at a single moment, the stick’s potential is being actualized right now by the hand, which in turn is being reduced from potency to act by neuromuscular activity, which in turn only actualizes the hand insofar as it is being actualized by biochemical and molecular activity, and so on.

This, in turn, illustrates the distinction between per se and per accidens chains. Per accidens chains are ones in which each member has causal power on its own and can exercise such causal power apart from all other members in the series. In other words, the causal power of one member does not wholly derive from all previous members in the series. A female boa can on rare occasions reproduce asexually. Suppose we have a chain of female boas reproducing asexually that extends backwards into an infinite past. Importantly, though, each female boa in the chain can causally bring about the succeeding boa without the continual operation of all past members. Each female boa, in other words, has underived causal power in this respect. Indeed, perhaps all the past members of this chain have died. Nevertheless, despite the previous members’ non-existence, a present member of the chain can still beget a further member. This series is a per accidens chain.

A per se chain, on the other hand, is one in which each member has no such independent, underived causal power. Take a series of power strips. Power strips, on their own, have no causal power to generate electricity. They only derive it from previous members of a chain. If one power strip conducts electricity, then it derives such electricity from without. Supposing it derives electricity from a yet further power strip, we are still left puzzled as to why there is any electricity being conducted, since this further power strip also has no power of its own to generate electricity and must itself derive electricity from without. In a chain of power strips, then, we can see that each member’s electricity is essentially dependent on previous members’ electricity, such that each one has electricity in a purely derivative manner. With the power strips, there is no independent causal power that can be exercised irrespective of previous members of the chain (as was the case in the series of female boas). This essentially dependent and derivative nature is the core feature of per se chains.

But because per se chains are not linearly extended throughout time, and because Aquinas’ argument concerns per se chains of change, it follows that his argument succeeds or fails irrespective of theories of time. Hence, eternalism does not pose a challenge to Aquinas’ argument.

Even if the foregoing analysis is mistaken, though, Aquinas’ argument can still be defended. For the argument offered in favor of eternalism founders on a misapplication of the truthmaker principle. The truthmaker for statement S is just the fact that S. As philosopher Edward Feser puts it, “The truthmaker for the statement that Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March is simply the fact that Julius Caesar actually was assassinated on the Ides of March, and nothing more need be said. In particular, we needn’t cash out claims about what was the case in terms of some claim about what presently is the case, or in terms of something that exists now. Facts about what was are as primitive as facts about what is, and irreducible to the latter.”9 Indeed, the entire core of A-theory is that not all times have the same kind of reality, and so it is wholly unsurprising that the truthmakers for propositions about, say, the future are unlike the truthmakers for propositions about, say, the present. The B-theorist will of course disagree, but the point is that to merely insist that all truthmakers must be of the same kind is flatly question-begging against the presentist.10

Finally, there are a number of motivations in favor of A-theory, from the ineliminability of tensed language, to our phenomenological experience of temporal becoming, to (arguably) the inadequacy of B-theoretic accounts of change. Exploring these in depth, however, would take us too far afield given present purposes. Suffice it to note that the objection from eternalism fails because (a) even under eternalism, there are still actualizations of potential (since Aquinas’ argument concerns per se series), and (b) the argument proffered in favor of eternalism founders on a question-begging application of a form of the truthmaker principle.

Stay tuned for the next post in series that will explicate another objection to Aquinas’ argument.

Author: Joe

Email: NaturalisticallyInclined@gmail.com

8. Aquinas, “Summa Theologiae,” ST I q2,a3.

9. Feser, “Aristotle’s Revenge,” 301.

10. Ibid.

10 Comments

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  5. Hey

    First off, great blog- some very interesting analysis. I agree that raising eternalism as an objection to the first way misses the point of the argument as the likes of Feser have clarified- however, I think the reason this objection rears its head at all is due to an equivocation between temporal priority and ontological priority that the argument needs in order to work.

    This objection is not fully formed in my head- so stay with me. I think the force of Aquinas argument, come from analogies that assume a certain kind of set up for a hierarchical series that need not be thought to be universal to all essentially ordered series (EOS) in order to get off the ground- that is, he assumes that an EOS is one where some phenomenon is necessarily in need of a first cause in order to generate the series in the first place. Yet, regardless of one’s theory of time, ‘generation’ is a temporal term, denoting I think, a change in some activity not being present to being present at some later time, where by it’s actuality is contingent on something ‘starting’ the series and sustaining the series and all it’s intermediary members.

    Yet not all such hierarchical series need be ‘generated’ by moving through a series of intermediary dependent layers bit by bit from some first layer/stage that is itself the originator of the subsequent hierarchy. Consider atomless gunk- it seems metaphysically possible. But the gunk proponent is not proposing that gunk is composed ‘bit by bit’ or that the gunk is generated over time, or that what composes gunk went from a non compositional state to some further state of composing gunk. Rather, the gunk, which is clearly an EOS, comes formed wholesale. There’s no need for a sort of ‘first place’ ground or originator for such a series to exist, to assert so is to confuse ontological priority (where gunk is by definition not well founded) with temporal priority (activity dependent on some derivative act that generates a series in order to get going in the first place). It seems to me that all of the Thomistic analogies of hierarchical series presuppose a sort of generational or transmission model of EOS or hierarchies which are, given they are derived from experience, temporally indexed (even if one assumes that such dependency is simultaneous, they are indexed as the series all begin at some time t, and were not present prior to t, and persist/endure through some period of time that the actualisers are at work).

    Think about the intuition powering this argument- how does say, positing an infinity of derivational states help get around the need for something to kickstart the series and sustain it? You illustrate this with the power strip well. There’s no way that an infinity of strips helps light the lamp, unless one strip eventually plugs into a socket, there will be no light, the lit bulb is by definition derivational here. (I wonder though, if there is already electricity in the cable that at each point is contingent upon some prior bit of the cable passing it through and this is true for every part of the cable, what’s the problem re lighting the lamp? It would conceivably have electricity immanent in the power strip- to argue this is impossible as the strip can only derive the electricity seems like question begging- but I’ll say no more for fear of opening up a tangent- but I’ll say more at the bottom of this post about this).

    Now it seems to me to be almost trivially true- that if it’s necessary that lamps are lit by electricity from some independent source external to the strip, then for the lamp to be lit, the power strip needs to be plugged into something like an outlet. But if this is the conclusion that Aquinas wants to draw, how useful is it in the context of a cosmological argument?

    Firstly, I take Aquinas to be a presentist (or at least an A theorist). He can not then commit himself to the existence of a sort of hierarchy extended throughout time such that there must be at some point in the past some still existing event/thing that allows for the universe to remain in existence, or to account for a change where at that past time, there was no universe as it is now to the present where the universe is as it is now. And on eternalism, there’s no such ‘change’ or generation of the block anymore than there would be for the atomless gunk, it comes gunky, wholesale. So it seems to me that on eternalism, we do have a way around the argument, if we suggest that the block is isomorphic to a piece of gunk.

    So as I see it, in order for the argument to work, I think Aquinas/Feser need to insist that the universe is not gunky. But I can’t think of an argument against gunk that they could bring that wouldn’t be such that it rests on the sort of analogy of the power strip, which I think would be question begging against the possibility of gunk, or is itself confusing temporal and ontological priorty. (gunk in other forms seems to me a general objection to other Thomistic arguments that rely on a need to terminate a regress of composition whether it be physical or metaphysical, the structure seems to me the same.)

    To my mind, all the stock examples of an EOS they use follow the same sort of setup:

    1. moving the stick/stone- in order from the stick to change from being at rest to being at motion, an EOS is needed (and must be sustained in act in order for the stone to continue moving)
    2. The lamp being lit- in order to account for the change of the lamp being inactive to being lit up, an EOS is needed (and must be sustained in act in order for the lamp to remain lit)
    3. The command to fire the rifle- in order to fire the rifle with the proper authority, one must have the authority of the commanding officer who need not derive his authority from some higher authority.
    4. A train carriage being in motion- in order to be moving, a once stationary carriage need derive its motion from an engine that can power this movement.

    I’ve heard other examples given, but what in general seems to me to stand out:

    i. No matter the number of dependent steps between the initiating state and the subsequent output/activity- it’s irrelevant, as to the necessity of the initiating state to bring about the change, such a state is supposedly necessary, hence why even if actual infinities per accidens where possible, they are unhelpful against this argument.
    ii. All examples are temporal processes of the generation of an output- they are about a change in time from one state (no EOS) to a subsequent state (some EOS). Even if it’s generally true that for any such ‘change’ to bring about a certain sort of EOS requires some initiating state, this says nothing of an EOS that is not so structured (i.e gunk). To argue such is to confuse temporal priority with ontological priority (some EOS can of course incorporate both).
    iii) all examples are of the sort of EOS that has a first member that has it’s power supposedly in a non derivative way (or at least, not in the same sense that the members of the chain in the EOS have their power). Yet again, I wonder if the power could be construed as inherent within the chain, if all that is required for any member to have some power is to be derived from some prior power, why think this need generate a vicious sort of regress that must terminate in a non derivative member? Doesn’t this require more analysis otherwise it’s begging the question against metaphysical infinitism?

    Take for example, the carriages of the train- all that is required for say any, carriage n to be in motion is for the prior carriage(s) to n to be in motion. That by itself says nothing as to the necessity of either a first carriage pulled into motion by an engine, or the need for an engine at all, unless one presupposes that without such a set up, no carriage would be in motion- yet that seems like question begging on the face of it. Because what if the pulling of carriages into motion by prior carriages has been eternal, such that prior to any given carriage that is the next to be pulled into motion, there’s an actual infinity of them all in motion, where there is no ‘first carriage’ in the sense that there’s no first negative number of the number line? It’s not clear to me that this is absurd- unless of course, one thinks of that carriages as an infinite line of stationary carriages, if one grants none have the power to move of themselves, then there’s nothing to bring about a change from a series of carriages at absolute rest to one where even one carriage is in motion. Yet that assumption doesn’t apply to the world where the infinite series of carriages has ‘always’ conceivably had motion in it, and that motion is derivative for was member of the series, but the series itself does not derive that motion from an external source akin to an engine.

    Anyway this is all a bit rambling! Apologies! As I said, it’s an interesting analysis!

    • Thanks for the comment!

      “I think the reason this objection rears its head at all is due to an equivocation between temporal priority and ontological priority that the argument needs in order to work.”

      I think your diagnosis here is correct.

      “t seems to me that all of the Thomistic analogies of hierarchical series presuppose a sort of generational or transmission model of EOS or hierarchies which are, given they are derived from experience, temporally indexed…”

      True, but it’s unclear how much this affects their instructional and/or analogical and/or argumentative import. For the world of our experience is unavoidably temporally indexed. We haven’t any experience of non-temporally-indexed chains of causes. It stands to reason, then, that any analogical constructions from ordinary experience will be limited in this regard.

      “I wonder though, if there is already electricity in the cable…”

      Yes, this is a good consideration. But I don’t think it negatively affected the argument or engenders questions begged. For we can reasonably ask: how on earth did such electricity come to be present within the chain to begin with? This is especially pressing since literally none of the members — including no subset of them! — has the relevant causal power (to cause the flow electricity or whatever) of themselves. There is hence a pressing explanatory question: how on earth could this come to be there in the first place given that no (subset of) member(s) has the relevant power? And for this we need some explanation. (The opponent may say: it’s just there, and that’s that. No further explanation. But this would be an appeal to a brute fact, which Thomists decidedly reject).

      “Firstly, I take Aquinas to be a presentist (or at least an A theorist).”

      I’m unsure of where Aquinas stands. I believe WLC argues he’s a B-theorist. Feel would argue he’s an A-theorist.

      “And on eternalism, there’s no such ‘change’ or generation of the block”

      B-theorists will disagree, as they don’t generally disbelieve in the existence of change. They simply understand it differently from A-theorists.

      “So it seems to me that on eternalism, we do have a way around the argument”.

      Right, so this depends on how we conceive of change. Feser and Aquinas think there can be timeless actualizations of potential, i.e. timeless causal dependence. Personally, I also see nothing wrong with that (conceptually, at least). Hence, the timeless or eternal 4D block universe could still be timelessly having its potential for existence actualized. And that’s all (Feser’s construal of) the argument requires. It’s not temporal change, to be sure, but it would still be the actualization of potential.

      “So as I see it, in order for the argument to work, I think Aquinas/Feser need to insist that the universe is not gunky.”

      Here is how Feser would probably respond. He would argue that the gunk is not non-composite. If it’s material gunk, then it’s a composite of form and matter (for Aristotelians, formless matter is impossible, since matter without form is pure potency and hence of itself doesn’t actually exist).

      But even if the gunk is not material, it will still be a composite of essence and existence (since its essence isn’t identical to existence (esse) itself — if it were, it would be God, not gunk). If we deny that it would be a metaphysical composite of essence and existence, the Thomist will simply say you’re just calling God by a different name: gunk.

      “i. No matter the number of dependent steps between the initiating state and the subsequent output/activity- it’s irrelevant, as to the necessity of the initiating state to bring about the change, such a state is supposedly necessary, hence why even if actual infinities per accidens where possible, they are unhelpful against this argument.”

      Correct.

      “Yet that assumption doesn’t apply to the world where the infinite series of carriages has ‘always’ conceivably had motion in it”

      Correct, but there is a question left unanswered: Why does the chain itself exhibit the relevant causal power or property? We cannot answer that in terms of members of the chain, since that presupposes the thing to be explained. And to say there simply is no explanation would be to posit a brute fact.

      A further note:

      The fact that, for each n in a series of causes, n is explained by a prior member, it doesn’t follow that the series itself (its causal power, or the relevant property in question, or its existence, or etc.) is explained. Imagine a snake that comes into existence a minute ago, but such that the existence of the snake in the last thirty seconds is explained by the state of the snake in the preceding 15 seconds, which in turn is explained in terms of the snake’s state in the preceding 7.5 seconds, and so on ad infinitum. Here, each member or stage of the “snake chain” is explained by a preceding member, but it would be absurd to say that the snake’s existence itself — as a whole — is explained.

      • Hi Joe- thanks for the reply- I only just checked in on your blog, sorry it took so long to respond.

        Firstly to clarify a few things from your responses before I try and better articulate what I’m trying to get at in a bit more detail-

        1. Yes eternalists do not deny change, this is something of a strawman of their position. A strawman Feser has indulged in himself, as seems to think that eternalism does amount to a denial of change in the scholastic metaphysics, though his arguments there are dubious. To me, the eternalist will simply offer a different account of change (something like the difference of spatio-temporal parts at a later than time than some earlier than time being apparent to our experience of the world- the dynamism captured in our perception- Craig Callender has a good view on this with his talk of ‘present patches’ fusing together non simultaneous sensory data).

        2. The Thomist and their refusal to accept brute facts is probably about right a response to expect here, they’d see it as unsatisfactory to lack a global explanation (and I’d be inclined to agree in certain circumstances this is something to avoid if possible) but that’s an interesting jumping off point for anyone not quite so worried about brute facts.The denial of them is going to be controversial, and create another task for the Thomist to convince us to abandon them. Best bet is to hope that their intuition is shared, and so most people won’t take this jumping off point.

        3. It’s fear to say its unclear to read Aquinas as having a particular theory of time. It’s clear though that Feser in thinking eternalism is contradictory, does not endorse it and has presentist symapthies.

        4. Even if this sort of worry for material composition is quashed (say we invoked material simple or atomless gunk) the Thomist would as you point out, likely invoke further distinctions to imply further metaphysical composition. Two response to that- firstly, it’s not clear why this composition involves further regresses (is existence further composed of parts?) but secondly, even if it does, I would ask why these regresses are any more worryingly vicious than the original regress, and can’t either be halted or argued that the regress is benign.

        5. You’re right to suggest that accounting for the power in the series, given no power in and of itself can account for it seems problematic in a global sense.However, we can, I think, pace Bliss & Aitken distinguish between mediate and global analysis of an infinite regress. I think on the mediate view, there is potentially actually always some prior part that possess existence or actuality from prior parts (and so on) so there’s no worry, we will never exhaust such prior ‘causes’ for any member in the series and run into a problem for any member of the series. The worry is of course that if this never bottoms out anywhere (a global view) then it’s inexplicable how the power is in the series at all, but to me that worry begs the question of why existence needs to originate in some first member of the series (or originate at all) to be present in the series, even taking into account the transitivity involved in the dependence and its asymmetry- if existence does not originate or arise from a member that has it in and of itself (as per a beginningless series) then the worry of where the existence of the series ‘came from’ or began, or originated in, or ‘is grounded in’ seems potentially illegitimate a worry to me. I appreciate that to say that it’s always been there in some prior members is going to seem unsatisfactory to the Thomist (and many others who share the intuition) but I think this is because they are metaphysical foundationalists by way of a guiding intuition they think is metaphysically necessary, but is not easily argued for on analysis without just assuming the truth of metaphysical foundationalism. Regardless, this brute view can be tempered I think, with a crucial distinction that can be made to help us navigate this worry.

        The distinction is not original to me- it’s taken from Morganti (2015). In his paper, he distinguishes between two models of regress- the transmission model and the emergence model.The transmission model suggests being (or act or existence or whatever) comes from a source that possesses the ‘power’ in and of itself, and transmits it an all or nothing yes/no transfer from some original ground or fundamental layer or first member. Now if one accepts the transmission model is at work in a hierarchical series, and argue that the regress is infinite without a first member, one is essentially abandoning a global explanation for the chain in principle, and is settling for mediate, local explanation for any subset of the chain.

        Morganti formulates the emergence model, in contrast as thus: ‘’that the being of whatever exists as part of material reality might be fully determined by an infinite series of parthood/dependence relations whereby the infinity of the series is the fundamental requisite for the being in question to be fully realised.’’ Morganti is seeking to allow for a global analysis of the series not possible on the transmission model, and I think, is one that is pertinent to the arguments Feser makes, particularly the argument from composition.

        My instinct on reading Feser’s arguments, is that they are predicated on the transmission model intuitively. This to me is potentially question begging against the possibility of an infinite series composed on the emergence model as being possible, which arguably gunk/a 4d block without a first part in the earlier than direction could be examples of. The examples used to furnish his arguments seem to assume this view, so I think they are disanalogous to this consideration once clarified. Now, there may be possible counter examples such as the infinite train carriages without a first member where the global worry arises (and one accepts a brute fact) but these sorts of examples imply a sort of dynamic process that’s certainly not applicable to the argument from composition (where Feser stresses that the series fundamentally is not temporal, and asks us to think of a snapshot of time and consider what relations are holding simultaneously in any composite) nor I think, the argument form act/potency on eternalism is a dynamic process, even if Feser is right that a 4d block is still essentially ordered, or at least involves asymmetric dependency relations.

        Again, you are right to point out that on eternalism- there is still a sort of atemporal dependency relation (call it causal) that holds asymmetrically between the different levels of being at a given temporal part. This is what the argument is honing in on. My worry though is this- part of Feser’s motivation for a sustaining cause is to imply a kind of ‘holding up’ of the levels of being of an object at a given time, and utilises temporally extended series to illustrate this.

        Let’s consider a given part or slice of an object on the 4D block, or the present ‘now’ that came into being through temporal becoming (as per presentism). Feser’s right to say, that regardless of the theory of time, there’s still these sorts of dependency relations at a given moment of time. But I think the theory of time does make a difference as to the requirement of a sustaining cause. The intuition to holding up (or sustaining) is that if this stops, then the series will ‘collapse’ so to speak or simply cease to be (as per the illustrative examples). On presentism, this means ‘will disappear from the world’ which is quite possible, but why think that this is true on eternalism, where nothing really could disappear from the block? Here things exist, simpliciter- there’s no going out of existence at a later time in the sense it does on presentism. Rather, ‘cease to exist’ means that there’s part of some extended object in time and space, that’s the last part- in that there’s no subsequent parts that belong to that object. Now why think that the reason that say, Elvis has no more space time parts later than 16th August 1977, is because God stopped sustaining some time slice? Wouldn’t we say that the reason that’s the last time slice is because of the fact that Elvis died (he had a heart attack, and the conditions that inform his identity no longer pedured beyond a given point). Regardless, on eternalism things don’t ‘blink’ out of existence- and so don’t need a ‘sustaining cause’ for their existing at some time t to explain why they endure at some given time- but rather need a cause for why they pedure at some later than part- but I don’t see that explanation as ever needing to invoke God.

        I take the sustaining cause worry that without a sustaining cause like God, an object will stop actualising its potential at every level of its being (the power will be switched off) and it will cease to be at that moment. On eternalism, given the block is taken to be static, this worry doesn’t seem to arise as it does on presentism where the object is wholly present at each moment it exists at, and a sustaining cause turning itself off would suggest an object will not endure to the next present moment. On eternalism, I don’t see the related worry- even if honing in on a given part, we notice that it is further essentially ordered in terms of its dependency relations, which we can grant. At a given moment, all the potencies of an actual thing are actualised, and even if this suggests a potentially infinite chain of intermediary levels of actualisation of potentials at a given moment, this was never a dynamic process that needs to be ‘sustained’ for fear that the potencies will ‘cease to be actual’. This implies that the actuality will cease to exist at a given moment if the sustaining cause ceases. My understanding of eternalism is that what is actual at a given moment can not cease to be actual at that moment (which is true only on presentism).

        Anyway, I’ll pause here, I could ramble on even further- but to conclude:

        I don’t think that the ‘brute fact’ or lack of global explanation is necessarily critical- or implies a regress is vicious.
        Even if its problematic, we can make a distinction between two models pace Morganti, that can provide a global account.
        I think gunk and a 4d block universe could provide counterexamples to the worry that all regresses are vicious taking these considerations into account, and that they are more problematic than Feser realises- and I don’t think invoking further distinctions helps him- why those distinctions entail vicious regresses or don’t terminate in simplicity of some sort is unclear to me.
        I don’t think that, even if Feser is correct to point out dependency relations on a 4d block that indicate timeless actualisation of potentials generates the same worries of ‘falling out of actuality’ if the sustaining cause were to cease. Even if the part was infinitely composed of act/potency this does not imply a sort of dynamic process that could cease to exist at a given moment in time.

        Here’s the link to Morganti’s paper- it’s a good read (if you haven’t read it) and may be useful in how you think about metaphysical foundationalism and the coherence of metaphysical infinitism: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10670-014-9655-4

  6. Holy Apostles Dead Philosophers Society

    So, as unsophisticated as it may be… I could have saved you a lot of time. (Pun intended).

    Eternalists shouldn’t be reasoned with. Rather, they should be beaten until they admit that the state of being punched in the face and the state of not being punched in the face are not only distinct events but that they are also not equally actual–at least qualitatively.

    The eternalists perspective on time, at least upon my brief reflection here, seems to echo the parmenidean denial of change: it sounds logical but is very, very clearly at odds with observed reality. What remains is not to determine whether the argumemt is fallacious, that much is clear, but how it is fallacious and where the reasoning goes wrong.

    Again, that’s just an initial thought. I haven’t dwelt too much on the philosophy of time. I’ll check back when i get around to that. Or have I already?

    • Whelp, I may as well respond here.

      First, thanks for the comment! Appreciated.

      Second, while I lean towards presentism, there are considerations in favor of eternalism that give me pause.

      Consider the relativity of simultaneity. Presumably, science has revealed that whether two events are simultaneous depends on reference frame. (Don’t ask me for the evidence, first because I’m not a scientist and so I genuinely don’t know it off the top of my head, but second presumably there’s lots on The Google).

      Consider then this following argument:

      P1) Whether events E1 and E2 are simultaneous is relative to reference frame, such that there can be (and sometimes is) a frame F1 in which E1 and E2 are simultaneous (at present time t) but also a frame F2 in which E1 precedes E2, where E2 is at t.
      P2) If presentism is true, then (i) only present things (and whatever is simultaneous with the present is itself present) exist simpliciter, and (ii) non-simultaneous events cannot co-exist.
      P3) So, if presentism is true, then E1 and E2 both exist in F1 but do not co-exist in F2.
      P4) If E1 and E2 both exist in F1 but do not co-exist in F2, then whether something exists simpliciter is relative to reference frame.
      P5) So, if presentism is true, then whether something exists simpliciter is relative to reference frame.
      P6) But whether something exists simpliciter is not relative to reference frame (perspective); things either exist or they don’t, full stop. It’s false that things “exist for you” but “don’t exist for me”.
      P7) So, presentism is false.

      This is prima facie plausible. Whether it’s plausible upon further inspection, I’ll leave that for the occasion of further inspection.

      Re: phenomenal consciousness and time

      The eternalist would presumably say that while it is true that his or her pain at t1 is as actual as his or her absence of pain at t2 (t1<t2), he or she doesn't *experience* the pain at t1 precisely because conscious experience is 'indexed' as it were to particular moments in time, such that only the contents of things at time t are present to the subject's consciousness at t (such that the subject is only aware at t of things that occur at t).

      Finally, eternalists generally don't deny the existence of change but instead simply understand it differently from A-theorists.

      But whether these arguments and responses succeed is a topic for further investigation.

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