Feser has recently responded to my IJPR article. I will respond to his post in a series of blog posts. Check out Part 1 here. This post is Part 2, which deals with some of Feser’s claims about my characterizations of EIT and EET and more.
“Arguments for God’s existence like the Aristotelian proof I defend in chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God (and which was discussed in my previous post on Schmid) are concerned in part to show that EIT is false and EET is true. Now, Schmid writes as if the falsity of EIT and truth of EET are presuppositions of such arguments. That is not correct. Rather, a critique of EIT and defense of EET are parts of such arguments, not undefended background assumptions of such arguments.”
This is not correct. There are two reasons for this.
First, let’s see what I actually said: “an argument one of whose premises presupposes the falsity of P-EIT and the truth of EET” (p. 203). Here, I point out that one of the premises presupposes the falsity of EIT. And that is obviously true: premise (7) in Feser’s Aristotelian proof does not justify the negation of EIT but rather merely assumes it. To be sure, Feser attempts, in chapter 1 of his book, to defend this assumption and to justify premise seven. But nowhere did I deny that. What I said was that one of the premises presupposes the falsity of EIT. And this is straightforward and obviously true. I did NOT claim that it is an ‘undefended background assumption of the argument’. I simply said one of the premises assumes the falsity of EIT. This is utterly separate from the question about whether the argument as a whole — including, of course, that which is said on behalf of the premises in chapter 1 — unjustifiably assumes this. Thus, Feser is just wrong and has mischaracterized my claim.
Let’s look more closely at what I say:
Here, I point out that one of the premises has the presupposition. Yes, in the next sentence, I say ‘the argument presupposes the falsity’, but I was intending the second sentence to be read in light of the first wherein I make the point in a more technical manner. (Moreover, notice what I say in that second sentence: *if* one can show that the presupposition is not adequately justified. This shows beyond reasonable doubt that by ‘the argument’s presupposition’ I do not simply mean ‘unjustified background assumption of the argument’. For if I did mean that, then the antecedent of the conditional would be utterly trivial.)
Second, ‘presupposition’ can be interpreted either as ‘assumes without justification’ or else simply ‘requires’. Feser interprets me as saying the former, but I don’t see any reason we should interpret me saying as much. In fact, this is an uncharitable assumption. For I quite literally go on in the article to examine precisely what Feser says, in his chapter and in his 2011 article, by way of justifying premise (7). It would be really strange if I meant by ‘presupposition’ in my paper ‘an undefended background assumption of the argument’ given that I go on to point out how the denial of EIT isn’t an undefended background assumption of the argument. [Now, what I will say is that I likely should have written ‘requires’ instead of ‘presupposes’, since the latter can be ambiguous. But that, of course, doesn’t excuse taking the uncharitable reading. Moreover, the fact that I say ‘if one can show that the presupposition is not adequately justified’ shows that I mean ‘requirement’ by ‘presupposition’, since if I instead meant ‘assumes without justification, my antecedent would be trivial. So the uncharitable charge stands.]
So far, Feser has mischaracterized me and uncharitably read me. Off to a good start.
Third, let us suppose (contrary to what I’ve argued) that both of my above two points are wrong. That is, let’s suppose that I not only applied ‘presuppose’ to the entire argument and what is said on its behalf but that I also contradicted myself in the article by using ‘presuppose’ to mean ‘has as an unjustified background assumption’. Even still, I would argue that it is correct to say that the argument unjustifiably assumes the falsity of EIT. To be sure, there is an attempt at justifying it. But as I explained in Section 3 [And section 4.1, but that is supplemental] in my lengthy blog post, the attempt fails and still ultimately rests on a mere assumption of EIT’s falsity. And so even if my first two points failed, I am not incorrect, pace Feser.
To see why such attempts still ultimately assume (rather than properly justify) EIT’s falsity, let’s again have a look at what Feser says in his chapter on behalf of premise (7).
Consider, for instance, that in the Aristotelian proof chapter, all we’re offered by way of justifying the claim that what happened prior to t is insufficient to explain why the water exists at t, as far as I can tell, is the following passage:
“[I]t is that matter’s potential to exist as water that is being actualized right now. Why? It is no good to answer that such-and-such a process occurred at some time in the past so as to combine the hydrogen and oxygen in just the right way. That tells us how the water got here, but that is not what we are asking about. It is also no good to point out that nothing has yet come along to separate out the hydrogen and oxygen. That tells us how the water might someday go out of existence, but that isn’t what we’re asking about either. What we’re asking about, again, is what keeps the water in existence at any instant at which it does in fact exist. ” (2017, p. 26)
But this amounts to simply asserting that the appeal to past things is insufficient to explain the present existence of the water; it is hardly a justification for it. The philosopher who thinks that the existence of S at moment m is adequately explained by the conjunction of |(i) S existed immediately before m and (ii) nothing destroyed S from then through m| will simply say: “Au contraire; on my view, these do suffice to explain it. Nothing you say in the quoted passage gives me any reason to think my proffered explanation is inadequate. You can retort that it’s ‘no good’, but you need to show why it’s no good. My view is precisely one according to which the conjunction of (i) and (ii) tells us not merely how the water got here, and not merely how the water might go out of existence, but also why the water exists at m. All you have done is simply asserted that the conjunction of (i) and (ii) doesn’t tell us why/how the water exists at m. But that’s precisely my view. And merely asserting a denial of my view is hardly grounds for rejection of said view. And note, moreover, that the onus in the present dialectical context is not on me to positively demonstrate why (i) and (ii) suffice to explain S’s existence at m; rather, you are the one giving a positive argument here, and hence you are the one who needs to give me sufficient reason to think my view is false. I do not, in this context, need to positively justify why my view is true. I need only point out that you haven’t proven it false.” [For a more fleshed out discussion of transtemporal explanatory accounts of EIT, check out this document here.]
Finally — and note that I do not need to do this for my criticism to succeed — here is a plausible [to my mind at least] positive justification as to why something like (i) and (ii) do suffice to explain S’s existence at m. For S to fail to exist at m despite existing from [m*, m), m* < m, is for some change to occur.[Fn] But a change occurs only if some factor causally induces said change. Hence, if no factor causally induces a change, then the change won’t occur. Thus, if no factor causally induces S to fail to exist at m despite existing from [m*, m), then S exists at m. Once we add that nothing came along to causally induce this — that is, once we add that nothing came along to destroy S from m* to m — it simply follows that S exists at m. [Cf. Section 4.1 in the present blog post for more on this line of thought.]
Here, we seem to have a perfectly respectable, perfectly legitimate explanation of S’s existence at m. And this does, indeed, tell us how S exists at m. That was a straightforward deduction of the explanatory facts cited [namely, (i) S existed immediately before m, (ii) nothing causally induced S’s cessation at m [i.e., nothing destroyed S from the immediately prior moment(s) through m], and (iii) a change occurs only if some factor causally induces said change]. And so we do, indeed, have sufficient explanation for S’s existence at m, one that doesn’t adduce some extrinsic sustaining efficient cause. For me at least, the explanation certainly seems to remove mystery as to why/how S exists at m. And unlike what allegedly afflicts the explanatory facts adduced in the quoted passage above from Feser (2017, p. 26), the present explanation does, indeed, tell us how S exists at m. [I discuss and defend EIT-friendly explanations of persistence along similar lines in this document here on no-change accounts. And again, Feser need not engage with this document if he responds. I include it for those who want to dig deeper.]
Feser next writes:
“For example, in the course of developing the Aristotelian proof, I point out that a substance like the water in question is composite in nature, i.e. it is made up of parts. There are different ways you could conceive of these parts – for example, in terms of substantial form and prime matter (if you are an Aristotelian hylemorphist), or in terms of essence and existence (if you are a Thomist metaphysician), or in terms of fundamental particles (if you are a metaphysical naturalist). It doesn’t matter for the specific purposes of the argument. What matters is only that the parts, considered just qua parts of that kind at t, are only potentially water at t, and that some additional factor is therefore needed in order to explain why this potential is actualized at t. That they made up water at t – 1 is irrelevant, because what matters is why they continue to make up water at t, and again, nothing about the parts considered by themselves can account for that. Hence we need to appeal to some additional factor.”
I have already addressed a well-nigh identical [in semantic/argumentative content] paragraph in Section 3 of my lengthier blog post. That other paragraph of Feser’s was:
“The basic idea is this. Consider a collection of particles of type P which constitute water at time t. Though they actually constitute water at t, there is nothing in the particles qua particles of type P that suffices to make them water rather than one of the other alternatives mentioned. Again, qua particles of type P they have the potential to constitute water, or separate quantities of hydrogen and oxygen, or some other substance or aggregate of substances. So, there must at t be something distinct from the collection which actualizes its potential to be water, specifically.”
Now, as I pointed out in my previous blog post, there are at least three problems with this.
First, the implicit causal principle adduced in this paragraph is simply not the causal principle articulated and defended in (2017, ch. 1). I actually addressed a nearly-identical point in my original manuscript for the Sophia article, but that manuscript was almost 11k words in total, and Sophia was extremely strict about making the article less than 8k words. Naturally, then, I chopped stuff, and addressing a nearly-identical point to Feser’s present point was left on the chopping board. Nevertheless, I saved the portion of the paper, and I shall articulate right now what I said therein.
One might say that the water’s existence consists in or results from a reduction of potency to act in the sense that some of the essential parts of water—its underlying matter, say, or its constituent molecules and atoms and whatnot—could be otherwise, such that the water could fail to exist. If, for instance, the oxygen and hydrogen atoms were separated, the water wouldn’t exist. Because the essential parts of water have the potential to be otherwise (e.g., to make up something other than water, or to be absent from reality altogether), it follows that the water has some potential to exist which is realized or actualized as opposed to other potentials that aren’t realized or actualized.
But, crucially, this is not the kind of ‘potency-to-act-reduction’ that Feser needs for his argument to get off the ground. Nowhere in Feser (2017, ch. 1) does Feser justify a causal principle to the effect that ‘if there are a range of potentials p1, p2, … pn, only one of which can be actual[ized] (at a given time), and one of them, pi, is actual[ized] (at a given time), then there is some (sustaining) cause which makes pi actual (at a given time).’
One reason this couldn’t be the causal principle at play in the Aristotelian proof is that it would straightforwardly debar the inference to a purely actual being. For suppose that the unactualized actualizer is simply a necessary but non-purely-actual being, A. In that case, it is simply false that there are a range of potentials when it comes to the very being, existence, or actuality of A, since A is necessarily actually existent. It thus has no potential pertaining to its very substantial being or existence (e.g., potentials to cease to exist, to begin to exist, or to be absent from reality altogether). Thus, if the causal principle at play in the Aristotelian proof were the one previously articulated, then the Aristotelian proof would be incapable of justifying the need for a sustaining, actualizing cause of A. (Why? Because the antecedent of the causal principle is simply false when it comes to A’s very being or existence—there isn’t a range of potentials concerning A’s very substantial existence. And so one cannot infer, solely by means of said causal principle, that A has a cause of its existence.) And if the Aristotelian proof were incapable of justifying the need for a sustaining, actualizing cause of A, then it simply couldn’t show that the unactualized actualizer is purely actual, since—for all the argument shows—A could be the unactualized actualizer, and A is not purely actual.
A second reason the aforementioned causal principle couldn’t be the one at play in the Aristotelian proof is that it is simply not one that Feser articulates or defends in his (2017, ch. 1). Instead, Feser argues that any change—any actualization of potential or reduction from potency to act—requires a causal actualizer (2017, pp. 19-22). But this is crucially different from the earlier causal principle, since the earlier makes no reference to change but instead merely to cross-world difference: if one possibility among a range of incompatible possibilities is actual, then there must be some cause that explains why the actual possibility is, well, actual. This is a stronger principle than the principle that changes require causes.
Second, the inference to the claim captured in “So…” is a non-sequitur. [Granted, Feser is giving a basic idea and so not intending to justify or fully flesh out the relevant inferences contained therein. But registering the problems afflicting the basic idea illustrates the work that needs to be done in a more fleshed out formulation.] Merely from the facts that the collection as such (qua collection) does not suffice for the collection’s actually constituting water at t, the only thing that follows is that there must be some other sufficient condition(s) for the collection’s constituting water at t. What doesn’t follow is that this other sufficient condition(s) is a sustaining/conserving actualizing cause. I would argue that the only thing needed as the other sufficient condition(s) is simply an explanation of why the collection constitutes water at t. But there are whole swathes of explanations of why the collection constitutes water at t that don’t adduce some outside sustaining or conserving efficient cause. I alluded to one of them in Part 1 based on causally inducing changes of state, but in case you’re curious, here’s a summary of some other explanatory avenues:
(a) A tendency or disposition to persist in existence (à la tendency-disposition accounts, which can be construed in metaphysically heavyweight or lightweight ways);
(b) Transtemporal explanatory relations obtaining among the successive stages of objects’ lives or among their temporal parts (à la transtemporal accounts);
(c) Laws of nature that govern or otherwise explain the evolution of systems and/or objects over time (à la law-based accounts);
(d) The primitive metaphysical necessity of the inertial thesis (à la propositional necessity accounts);
(e) The metaphysically necessary existence of some foundational temporal concrete object(s), such as the neo-classical theistic God or various naturalist-friendly proposals (à la objectual necessity accounts); and
(f) Persistence being the absence of change and so adequately explained by the absence of sufficiently destructive change-inducing factors (à la no-change accounts — cf. also Section 4.1 of the lengthier blog post wherein I argue that the Aristotelian proof entails EIT).
To be sure, there are more besides. I’m simply giving you a flavor of the explanations on offer that make no appeal to conserving or sustaining causes. (Want to pursue them further? Click on those hyperlinks. I don’t claim Feser needs to do this or should do this if he wants to respond to me further. They’re included for those who want to dig deeper into inertialist-friendly explanations of persistence.]
Third — and this is kinda double counting, but I deem it important enough to separate as a distinct objection in its own right — the very causal principle Feser implicitly adduces in the relevant passage seems to undermine the Aristotelian proof. For the causal principle at hand — to reiterate what I said above — would straightforwardly debar the inference to a purely actual being. For suppose that the unactualized actualizer is simply a necessary but non-purely-actual being, A. In that cause, it is simply false that there are a range of potentials when it comes to the very being, existence, or actuality of A, since A is necessarily actually existent. It thus has no potential pertaining to its very substantial being or existence (e.g., potentials to cease to exist, to begin to exist, or to be absent from reality altogether). Thus, if the causal principle at play in the Aristotelian proof were the one Feser seems implicitly to adduce in the quoted passage, then the Aristotelian proof would be incapable of justifying the need for a sustaining, actualizing cause of A. (Why? Because the antecedent of the causal principle is simply false when it comes to A’s very being or existence—there isn’t a range of potentials concerning A’s very substantial existence. And so one cannot infer, solely by means of said causal principle, that A has a cause of its existence.) And if the Aristotelian proof were incapable of justifying the need for a sustaining, actualizing cause of A, then it simply couldn’t show that the unactualized actualizer is purely actual, since—for all the argument shows—A could be the unactualized actualizer, and A is not purely actual.
Think about it this way. It was precisely because the collection (qua collection) did not suffice for the collection’s actually constituting water that — by Feser’s lights — there must be some sustaining or actualizing cause [apart from the collection itself] of the collection’s actually existing as [constituting] water. But this motivation for a sustaining cause is simply irrelevant if there is some fact about the entity in question (qua that entity) that suffices for its existence. And this is precisely what I and a whole host of other non-classical-theists [both non-theists and non-classical theists] think is the case: the foundation of reality is one or more fundamental, necessarily existent entities with potentials for accidental [though obviously not substantial] change. It is simply false, of such entities, that no fact about them suffices for their existence. This is unlike the case of the collection. Thus, even granting that the collection needs a sustaining or conserving cause, the very motivation that led Feser to demand such a sustaining cause undercuts his inference to the pure actuality of the unactualized being.
In Part 3 of this series, I’ll address the next part of Feser’s post.[Fn] I addressed an objection to this argument based on the claim that cessation isn’t a change in Section 4.1.2 of my lengthier blog post. Use the command F function to find it quickly.