Feser on Schmid on Existential Inertia | A Comprehensive Response

This post is my comprehensive response to Feser’s response to my IJPR article. The purpose of this post is to include each post from my seven-part response to Feser in one place. There’s nothing in this post over and above what’s contained in that seven-part series. Except, of course, the following series index:

  1. Feser on Schmid on Existential Inertia: On Length | Part 1
  2. Feser on Schmid on Existential Inertia: On Presupposing EIT’s Falsity and Explaining Inertial Persistence | Part 2
  3. Feser on Schmid on Existential Inertia: EIT, Entailment, and Extrinsic Explanation | Part 3
  4. Feser on Schmid on Existential Inertia: The Prior Probability of EIT | Part 4
  5. Feser on Schmid on Existential Inertia: Vicious Circularity and the Metaphysics of EIT | Part 5
  6. Feser on Schmid on Existential Inertia: Theoretical Virtues and Vices | Part 6
  7. Feser on Schmid on Existential Inertia: An Argument Against EIT + More Demonstrable Misrepresentation | Part 7

Again, I just want all the posts in one place. So let’s get to it!


On Length | Part 1

This post is Part 1, which addresses Feser’s complaints about the length of my previous blog post reply to his first blog post.

I have multiple things to say in response to Feser’s complaints.

First, on countless occasions, there is a ‘multiple-paragraphs-to-one-sentence correspondence’ between my response and his blog post. This is altogether unsurprising: it takes Feser one sentence to mischaracterize one of my points in my Sophia article as a conditional claim, or to misrepresent the points I say on behalf of my account of per se chains, or to mistakenly allege questions begged, or to gesture towards pages in his book where he addresses things, or to intimate/hint/suggest that I’m behind sock puppetry. [Let me be loud and clear: I do not claim Feser intentionally or deliberately misrepresented me. Feser is a man with integrity, and so I am well-nigh certain these are unintentional and not deliberate.] But it takes multiple paragraphs to explain what’s wrong with each of these. For instance: (a) in a case of misrepresentation (of which I documented numerous in the previous blog post — cf. Section 3), I have to spell out exactly why it’s a misrepresentation, what I actually said, and so on, and this requires multiple paragraphs; (b) in a case of mistaken allegations of questions begged (of which I documented many in the previous blog post — cf. Section 3), I have to explain the dialectical context at hand, who has the onus of justification, why my response, given the dialectical context, does no such thing, and so on. Again, this takes multiple paragraphs; (c) in the case of Feser gesturing towards pages in his book and urging that I need to respond to the arguments therein, it takes me multiple paragraphs to explain Feser’s arguments on those pages and then critically assess them; and (d) in the case of sock puppetry, I have to explain why such a hypothesis is obviously wrong.

Also, as I pointed out many times in the blog post, I had already made many of the points in a much briefer manner in my section “Dialectical Context” in the Sophia article. But that didn’t prevent misunderstandings of the dialectical context from arising, and so I had to step back and explain things with concrete examples, like the example of the Even-Number-Quarkist argument.

Second, my posts have a multiplicity of purposes. I explained in my blog post that my aim was not merely to respond to Feser; it was also to make the post a one-stop-shop for the breadth of criticisms of the Aristotelian proof I’ve leveled. Different sections signal different purposes — that is well-nigh universally understood. And I was explicit that I had one section on Feser’s blog post. The rest were to either set the stage or to facilitate my other aim of making my post a one-stop-shop of my criticisms of the Aristotelian proof. Indeed, I repeatedly signal throughout my post a multiplicity of aims, only one of which was responding to Feser. Not long after uploading the post, moreover, I added a paragraph explaining this point:

Finally, if Feser wants a shorter section to read whose sole aim was to directly reply to Feser’s blog post, he can read Section 3 of my post. Therein I point out that none of Feser’s responses to my article succeed.

Feser next says:

“Since the notion of existential inertia seems to be at the core of our disagreement, and since I take it to be a reasonable assumption that this article contains Schmid’s most rigorous presentation of his views on that topic (and that his latest blog post presupposes the article in any event), I take that to be a reasonable way to conclude our exchange for now.  Fair enough?”

I have two points to make here.

First: I don’t see this as fair. What’s fair is for Feser to read the much shorter Section 3 of my blog post [much of which is just quoting Feser’s blog post — I quote and respond to nearly every sentence/paragraph]. It is not fair to ignore the fact that Feser misrepresented me on multiple occasions, clearly misunderstood the dialectical context with his allegations of question-begging, and so on.

Second: It isn’t my most rigorous presentation of my views. Indeed, in my previous blog post, I pointed out that I’ve considerably developed my views since that paper and even disagree with [or, perhaps more accurately, would modify] some portions of the discussion. I was a baby [well, teenage] scholar when I wrote that paper — my first ever paper. Naturally, my views have become much more nuanced, precise, and well-thought-out since then. In this series, I’ll point out those modifications where and when they may arise.

My most recent and rigorous articulation of my views on EIT are in two papers under review. I’ve extracted some of the key points in the following documents, in case anyone is interested. And no, I am not demanding that Feser read these, and nor am I saying Feser has to read or respond to these in order to make his case. They’re included because they are far more developed than my IJPR paper, and they contain my actual — occurrent, present — views about EIT. They articulate EIT under various different spacetime structures, explore a whole host of inertialist-friendly explanations of persistence not contained in my IJPR article, and more.

  • I precisely articulate EIT in this document under various spacetime structures.
  • Metaphysical accounts of inertial persistence are explanations of objects’ persistence that are inertialist-friendly (i.e., under which EIT is or can be true). Here are documents wherein I develop numerous such metaphysical accounts: (a) tendency-disposition accounts here; (b) transtemporal accounts here; (c) law-based accounts here; (d) necessity accounts here; (e) no-change accounts here.
  • I explain some motivations for EIT here.
  • I address the principal objections to EIT [including Feser’s] in the literature here.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll address the next part of Feser’s post.


On Presupposing EIT’s Falsity and Explaining Inertial Persistence | Part 2

This post is Part 2, which deals with some of Feser’s claims about my characterizations of EIT and EET and more.

Feser writes:

“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.


EIT, Entailment, and Extrinsic Explanation | Part 3

This post is Part 3, which deals again with Feser’s false (and misrepresentative, and uncharitable) claim that I claim that his Aristotelian proof assumes, without justification, the falsity of EIT. It also deals with the entailments of EIT.

Feser writes:

“You may or may not agree with this argument.  (In my previous post on Schmid, I defend it against an objection he raises against it.)”

And in Section 3 of my lengthier blog post, I argued that Feser’s defense fails.

Feser: “But it is precisely an argument against EIT and for EET.  For it entails that the water will not continue to exist from t – 1 to t unless something acts to keep it in existence.  Hence Schmid is wrong to say that the Aristotelian proof (of which this argument is a component part) merely assumes EET.”

But I am not wrong here, because that’s not what I claimed. I showed in Part 2 that Feser has both mischaracterized me and read me uncharitably here. And I also explained that even if (as is contrary to fact) he neither mischaracterized me nor uncharitably read me, my claim is still correct. See Part 2.

Feser: “(Moreover, the whole point of my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” is to show that, properly understood, Aquinas’s Five Ways – the first of which is a version of the Aristotelian proof – are arguments against EIT.  Schmid cites this article in his own paper, which makes it is especially odd for him to write as if my arguments simply assume the falsity of EIT.)”

I have already explained why I did not claim that Feser’s arguments simply assume (without justification) the falsity of EIT. And this is obviously true when one inspects what I actually wrote in my IJPR paper, as I explained in Part 2. This makes it especially odd for Feser to write as if I claimed, in my IJPR paper, that Feser’s arguments simply assume (without justification) the falsity of EIT.

Feser: “Schmid also claims that the rejection of EIT does not entail accepting EET.  Consider again the example of the water.  If we reject EIT, Schmid thinks, all that follows is that the water will not of necessity continue to exist without a sustaining cause.  But it doesn’t follow that it will of necessity go out of existence without one.  It might simply happen to carry on without one.

This too is not correct.”

Feser is incorrect here. For it is demonstrable that the mere negation of P-EIT does not entail the truth of EET as I spelled them out in my paper. Let’s see why.

The negation of P-EIT says that it is not necessarily the case that objects persist in the absence of destruction.

It is simply a fact of logic that the negation of P-EIT is consistent with the following claim:

CLAIM: It is possibly the case that objects persist in the absence of destruction.

If we let ‘objects persist in the absence of destruction [i.e., the absence of destruction is by itself sufficient for objects’ persistence]’ be ‘p’, then we have:

The logical form of ~P-EIT is: ~□p, which is equivalent to ◊~p

The logical form of CLAIM is: ◊p

Now, it is, again, simply a fact of logic that  ◊~p and ◊p are consistent.

So, ~P-EIT is consistent with CLAIM.

But CLAIM is not consistent with EET. CLAIM says that, possibly, the absence of destruction is by itself sufficient for persistence. According to EET, however, it is necessarily the case that objects cease in the absence of sustenance, in which case it is necessarily true that the absence of destruction is not by itself sufficient for persistence (since the object needs to be sustained in addition). This has the form of □~p. Since CLAIM says that, possibly, the absence of destruction is by itself sufficient for persistence, CLAIM is equivalent to: it is not necessarily the case that the absence of destruction is not by itself sufficient for persistence. So, CLAIM is equivalent to ~□~p. Hence, EET is □~p whereas CLAIM is ~□~p. That’s inconsistent. Hence, CLAIM is not consistent with EET.

Hence, ~P-EIT is consistent with CLAIM, but CLAIM is inconsistent with EET. But it is a simple fact of logic that if q is consistent r and r is inconsistent with s, then q does not entail s. For suppose the antecedent of that conditional is true. Now suppose, for reductio, that q entails s. Since s is inconsistent with r, s entails ~r.  So, q entails ~r (by transitivity of entailment). But this is to say that q and r are not consistent. But we are supposing that q is consistent with r. Contradiction. Hence, our assumption for reductio is false. So, q does not entail s. Hence, from the truth of the antecedent we derived the truth of the consequent. Hence, the conditional claim is true. Hence, if q is consistent r and r is inconsistent with s, then q does not entail s.

But it was shown above that ~P-EIT is consistent with CLAIM whereas CLAIM is inconsistent with EET. So, ~P-EIT does not entail EET.

So, I’ve shown that ~P-EIT does not entail EET. But Feser claimed I was wrong in making this claim. So, Feser is wrong.

This shows that what Feser goes on to say after ‘this too is not correct’, in connection with justifying this claim, is moot (to quote Feser). But, nevertheless, let’s consider it.

Feser: “If the water continues to exist from t – 1 to t, then something must account for this fact, and it will have to be something either intrinsic to the water or extrinsic to it.”

What? The claim Feser is supposed to be evaluating is my claim that ~P-EIT does not entail EET. Feser is here adding an auxiliary thesis — that something must explain the fact that the water continues to exist. But Feser is NOT supposed to be evaluating the claim that the conjunction of (~P-EIT & <something must explain the fact that objects persist>) does not entail EET. I never claimed anything about this conjunction. It is trivial that you can add auxiliary theses to ~P-EIT to entail EET. No one denied that. My claim was, instead, that ~P-EIT does not entail EET. Feser can add an auxiliary thesis to ~P-EIT to derive EET if he wants, but then he is obviously not targeting my claim. And yet that is precisely what he was supposed to be doing — he is supposed to be explaining why my claim is “not correct”.

Feser: “Now, if EIT is false, then it is not something intrinsic to the water; and if there is no sustaining cause, then it will not be something extrinsic to it either.”

This is false. It is false that if there is no sustaining cause at t [or from (t-1) to t, which I shall hereafter drop], then the explanation for an object’s existence at t will not be something extrinsic to the object at t. For there are whole swathes of explanations of an object’s persistence that do not adduce sustaining causes and yet adduce facts extrinsic to the object itself at t.

Consider, for instance, one of the explanations I proffered in section 3 of my lengthier blog post and which I adumbrated in the previous post:

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 addd 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 lengthier 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 explanation adduces facts outside of or extrinsic to S at m. And the explanation 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. The present explanation does, indeed, tell us how S exists at m. [I discuss and defend EIT-friendly explanations of persistence that adduce facts extrinsic to S at m 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.]

Or consider inertialist-friendly explanations based on laws of nature, which adduce facts extrinsic to S at m. Or consider inertialist-friendly explanations based on transtemporal explanatory relations, which adduce facts extrinsic to S at m. Or consider an explanation by appeal to the de dicto necessity of the inertial thesis (à la propositional necessity accounts). And on and on. Feser’s claim is just false.

Feser: “But then there will be nothing to account for its continuing to exist from t – 1 to t, in which case it will not continue to exist.  Which is precisely what EET claims.  So, if we reject EIT, then we must indeed affirm EET.”

But we’ve already seen that (i) Feser has added an auxiliary thesis to ~P-EIT to derive EET, and hence he has NOT shown that ~P-EIT by itself entails EET (which was the claim he is supposed to be evaluating), and that (ii) his derivation contains a false claim, to wit, the false claim that if there is no sustaining cause at t, then the explanation for an object’s existence at t will not be something extrinsic to the object at t.

Feser: “A critic might respond that this presupposes the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).  Well, since I think PSR is true and have defended it at length in several places, I hardly think that is a problem.  But in fact the argument does not presuppose PSR – or to be more precise, it doesn’t presuppose PSR any more than any other explanation does.  Homicide detectives, insurance investigators, and forensic engineers never take seriously the suggestion “Maybe it just happened for no reason!” when considering the phenomena they are trying to understand, and that is so whether or not they are committed to the principle that absolutely everything has an explanation.  Similarly, we needn’t appeal to such a principle in order to judge that the rejection of EIT should lead us to embrace EET.”

But the criticism that I’ve leveled, at least, is not that the argument merely presupposes the PSR or something like it. The criticism instead is that Feser was supposed to be addressing my claim that ~P-EIT does not entail EET. But then to address this claim, he only argued that adding an auxiliary hypothesis to ~P-EIT entails EET. That wasn’t my claim, and I never denied the trivial fact that one can add an auxiliary thesis to ~P-EIT to entail EET.


Edit:

One might object: isn’t your post here just pedantic and irrelevant logic-chopping? How does any of this matter?

Here’s my response.

I see it as neither pedantic nor irrelevant or insignificant. There is a purpose behind it, and I take the purpose to be obviously significant. What is that purpose? I’ll spell it out briefly.

Remember my point: the mere fact of denying P-EIT doesn’t deliver (i.e., allow us to derive or establish or logically infer the truth of) EET. This means that it is not enough merely to deny P-EIT if we want to deliver or establish EET. Feser wants to deliver or establish EET. So it is not enough for Feser merely to deny P-EIT. So if Feser wants to succeed in delivering or establishing EET, he must adduce and defend some philosophically substantive auxiliary thesis or theses added to the denial of P-EIT. This is quite clearly a significant result, one that some may not have seen originally and one that some may have thought unnecessary. [Some may have thought it would be enough merely to reject P-EIT.]

And this discovery especially helps us focus precisely on those substantive auxiliary theses and whether or not they are true/defensible. And that’s precisely what I went on to do with Feser’s proffered auxiliary theses: one of Feser’s theses was a PSR or PSR-like explanatory principle, which I accept; but another one of his theses was that if there is no sustaining cause, then there is no extrinsic explanation. And I argued against this. Nothing is pedantic or irrelevant here. It is a significant point that some philosophically substantive auxiliary thesis or theses needs to be conjoined to a mere denial of P-EIT to deliver EET. It helps us see connections between ideas, clears up the dialectical context [i.e., helps us see what one needs to do if one wants to establish EET], allows us to identify the dialectical role the auxiliary theses play and what they need to add to ~P-EIT to deliver EET, and finally sets the stage for and facilitates our focus on such auxiliary theses. Nothing pedantic or irrelevant here.

Fin.


In Part 4 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.


The Prior Probability of EIT | Part 4

This post is Part 4, which deals with the prior or intrinsic probability of P-EIT and EET as well as Feser’s summary of my paper’s stage-setting.

Feser: “A third claim Schmid makes about EIT and EET is that neither has a presumption in its favor, so that we ought initially to be agnostic about which is correct.  A priori, they are evenly matched.”

This is one part of my paper that I have come to disagree with. For I now think EIT is far better than EET when it comes to prior or intrinsic probability [or a priori plausibility, to use Feser’s phrase — one I’m happy to use]. One key determinant of prior/intrinsic probability is simplicity. And unless I have overlooked something, it is clearly true that EIT is simpler than EET. For one thing, EET requires a categorically different kind of causation in our ontology [namely, sustaining causation]. EIT does not by itself require this. For another thing, EET is going to require a categorically different kind of being in our ontology [assuming, as I take to be innocuous in this dialectical context, the impossibility of infinitely descending per se chains of causal dependence]. In particular, EET is going to require there to be at least one timeless being that sustains temporal things in existence. EET is thus committed not only to all the temporal entities EIT is committed to, but it also includes more entities (a timeless entity), more kinds of causation (sustenance or conservation from without, as well as timeless-to-temporal causation), and more fundamental [i.e. not-reducible-to-other] kinds of entities (reality is fundamentally divided at least into timeless/immutable concrete things and temporal/immutable concrete things), and so on. This makes EET much more complex than EIT and hence much less intrinsically probable. [Fn]

I also want to pinpoint another way in which I would modify the IJPR paper. In particular, I say therein that “Consider again P-EIT and EET. In particular, notice that they exactly parallel one another. Their ontological commitments are exactly parallel (each committed to a particular kind of tendency within temporal objects)”. This, I don’t think, is right. First, I seem to speak in this passage as if a ‘tendency’ is some metaphysically heavyweight thing, such as a dispositional property of something. But that is a commitment of neither P-EIT nor EET. In particular, they can both be read in ways that don’t ontologically commit to some ‘tendency’ — this can be read in a metaphysically lightweight way. [For those interested, cf. my discussion of tendency-disposition accounts here for more on this.] Second, it is wrong that the two theses have the same commitments. As I showed in the previous paragraph, EET has many, many more commitments. In any case, my modifications/corrections only strengthen my paper’s case.

———-

[Fn] Note that when philosophers speak of fundamental kinds of things in the context of theoretical virtue comparison, they simply mean kinds of things that are not analyzable in terms of or reducible to other kinds of things. This is a separate issue from one such fundamental kind of thing [e.g. temporal things] standing in a causal dependence relation to another such fundamental kind of thing [e.g., a timeless thing or things].

———-

But Feser thinks I’m mistaken for another reason, and I will argue that he is mistaken in this regard.

Feser: “This too, I would argue, is mistaken. To take an example I have often used, suppose you explain, to someone who has never heard of them before (a young child, say), the nature or essence of a lion, of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and of a unicorn.  Then you tell him that, of these three animals, one exists, one used to exist but has gone extinct, and the other never existed and is fictional.  You ask him to tell you, based on his new knowledge of the essences of each, which is which.  Naturally, he couldn’t tell you.  For there is nothing in the essence or nature of these things that could, by itself, tell you whether or not it exists.  Existence is something additional to the essence of a contingent thing.  It doesn’t follow from such a thing’s essence.”

Suppose I grant this. All the child should conclude is that — precisely because there is nothing about a contingent thing [or its nature] that tells us whether it exists — there must be some other factor that explains why the contingent thing exists. In other words, we need some reason why the contingent thing is in reality at all. But this, of course, is an entirely separate question from why, once in existence, the thing continues to exist.

And, indeed, I would argue that the a priori considerations strongly favor EIT. Consider this dialogue between me and the child from earlier.

—–

Joe: Suppose something S exists immediately before a given moment m. Now, for S to fail to exist at m despite existing immediately before m is for some kind of change to occur. Of course, it’s not as though S undergoes some change in this process, since S doesn’t become something different. But still, there is some kind of change here, whether in the ontological inventory of what there is, or whether in the incorporation of what were previously S’s parts into parts of something else, or whether in the passing away of a state, or whatever. [See Section 4.1.2 here for more on this objection.]

Child: That seems reasonable to me.

Joe: But changes of state (i.e., cases where some new state comes to be or some old state passes away) plausibly require some cause. It’s not as though a raging tiger could just spring into existence in this room right now; that would require some cause.

Child: Yeah, changes of state seem to require causes.

Joe: So, if there is no cause that induces the relevant change of state, then there won’t be such a change.

Child: That follows.

Joe: So, if there is no cause that induces S to cease to exist at m — that is, if there is nothing that comes along to destroy S — then S will not cease to exist at m. And in that case, S will persist to m. For you granted earlier that S’s failing to exist m despite existing before m constitutes some kind of change. In particular, it’s a change of state in the sense of an old state passing away. And in that case, we get the conclusion that so long as nothing destroys S from immediately before m through m, then S will exist at m. We derived this in a manner that removes mystery as to why and how S exists at m.

Child: That makes sense.

—–

In this (obviously gerrymandered) conversation, we have a seemingly perfectly illuminating inertialist-friendly explanation of why S exists at m once S is in existence. The explanation tells us precisely how and why S exists at m. And whether or not existence follows from what a contingent thing is is not relevant to this point.

Feser: “This is, of course, an argument Aquinas gives for the Thomistic doctrine of the real distinction between essence and existence (which I develop and defend in chapter 4 of Five Proofs).  The point for the moment is this.  If nothing about the essence or nature of a thing entails that it exists at all in the first place, then it is hard to see how anything about its essence or nature could entail that will persist in existence once it does exist.”

Maybe so. But nothing in the exchange above, for instance, assumes that it was something about the essence or nature of the contingent thing which explains why the object persists. Totally separate explanatory facts were cited. And so this point doesn’t support the denial of EIT, which is what it would need to do in order for Feser to substantiate his claim that EET is better off than EIT in terms of their ‘a priori matchup’ (as it were).

Feser: “In short, the very nature of a contingent thing qua contingent makes it implausible to attribute to it a feature like existential inertia.  In which case, EET is, contra Schmid, a priori more plausible than EIT.”

I have already shown why this is mistaken. First, none of the explanatory facts cited in my conversation with the child involved facts about the essence or nature of a contingent thing explaining why it persists. And there are whole swathes of inertialist-friendly explanations of persistence, as we saw in previous posts in this series, that likewise make no appeal to the nature of contingent things. I have also already explained why existential inertia isn’t a ‘feature’ or ‘attribute’ of things in Section 3 of my lengthier blog post. (And even those who accept a tendency-based account of EIT where things have the tendency by nature [cf. some tendency-disposition accounts] should not be convinced by what Feser says. They will simply say ‘if you leave off a tendency to persist in your description of their essences, then you have simply given the child an incomplete description’.)

Finally, suppose — contrary to what I argued — that Feser did show or render plausible the claim that contingent things do not enjoy existential inertia. As I point out in a footnote of my IJPR paper and explain in more detail in Section 4.1 of my lengthier blog post, in principle EIT (or an EIT) can quantify over a subset of temporal concrete objects. And so the inertialist may very well hold that contingent things uniformly fail to enjoy inertial persistence, but that there is nevertheless some foundational necessarily existent temporal concrete object or objects upon which non-foundational contingent concrete objects depend. (Theist-friendly examples include the neo-classical or panentheistic temporal God, while non-theist-friendly examples include one or more foundational quantum fields, or a spatiotemporal wavefunction [cf. Section 4.3.8 of my lengthier blog post], or a collection of fundamental particles, what have you.] In this case, it is false that nothing about the necessary foundation demands its existence or its persistence; indeed, the opposite is true. Hence, even if — contrary to what I argued — Feser’s argument succeeds, the inertialist can still maintain a version of EIT. (To be sure, Feser might try to adduce other arguments claiming that only the classical theistic God could be necessarily existent. But that is a separate argument from the one under present consideration, and my sole purpose here is to point out that the the argument under present consideration need not move an inertialist to abandon their position. And there’s also the fact that there are responses to such arguments that, by my lights at least, succeed.)

Feser: “In summary, then, in the first, stage-setting part of his paper, Schmid makes three dubious claims: that the falsity of EIT and truth of EET are simply taken for granted by the Aristotelian proof (not true);”

Let’s also summarize: in Feser’s assessment of the stage-setting part of my paper, he both mischaracterized and read uncharitably what I said about the presupposition of EIT, and even if he didn’t, my point still stands [cf. Part 2]. So his first point here is simply false.

Feser: “that the falsity of EIT does not give us reason to believe EET (not true);”

And I already addressed Feser’s allegations in this regard in Part 3, showing that they don’t work. Hence, Feser is wrong to claim that what I said here is false.

(I am assuming that by ‘does not give us reason’, Feser means ‘does not give us adequate reason’ (instead of meaning ‘does not give us any reason’), since nowhere did I say that the negation of P-EIT does not give us any reason to believe EET.)

Feser: “and that EIT and EET are equally plausible a priori (not true).”

I have already shown why Feser’s responses to my claim here fail. See the paragraphs above. But Feser is (accidentally) right here — my claim that they’re equally plausible a priori is not true. As I explained above, EIT is much more plausible than EET a priori!

Feser: “So unpromising a beginning does not portend well for the rest of the paper, and indeed further serious problems with it arise immediately.”

And an unpromising beginning to Feser’s blog post, rife as it was with false claims and misrepresentation, does not portend well for the rest of his blog post, and indeed further serious problems with it arise immediately — problems to which I will turn in Part 5 of this series.


Vicious Circularity and the Metaphysics of EIT | Part 5

This post is Part 5, which deals with everything Feser says on the metaphysics of existential inertia. There are only two more installments of the series left: Part 6, which deals with everything Feser says in his section “Theoretical vices”, and Part 7, which addresses everything Feser says in his section ‘An argument against EIT’.

Feser writes: “Schmid next considers two possible ways of spelling out EIT.  The first account goes like this: Consider the water in our earlier example.  Its existence at some time t is sufficiently explained by (a) the state and existence of the water at an immediately preceding time t – 1 together with (b) the absence of anything acting to destroy the water.”

This first account of EIT is another aspect of the paper I would modify. When I wrote the paper, I wanted to leave this first account open between (what I have more recently termed) ‘transtemporal accounts’ and ‘no-change accounts’ (cf. those links for more detailed characterization). Both of these accounts cite at least one fact about past things to explain the present existence of the water. Naturally, then, I thought they could both fall under my first account in the IJPR paper, since they both — at least under one way to articulate them — appeal to the moment immediately before the present moment as part of the explanation of the present existence of an object. But I have now come to see that this was a mistake, since transtemporal and no-change accounts of EIT — while unified by such an appeal — are nevertheless fundamentally different kinds of explanations. The result is that my IJPR’s first account can be read in either transtemporal-account terms or no-change-account terms, and this makes things difficult (as all ambiguities do). So, let me tease out these two different ways of understanding the first IJPR account.

On a transtemporal understanding of the first IJPR account, some kind of transtemporal relation(s) to explain persistence. In the paper, I leave open the precise nature of the relevant transtemporal explanatory relation, allowing the relation to be either causal or non-causal. According to this understanding of the first IJPR account, then, temporal concrete object S’s persistence is explained by (i) the absence of sufficiently causally destructive factors operative on S, plus (ii) transtemporal explanatory relations (causal or otherwise) obtaining between the temporally successive states of S’s life (so to speak).

Now, for the sake of concreteness, let’s stipulate that the relation at play is causation. Moreover — again for the sake of concreteness — let’s stipulate that time is discrete and so composed of smallest units. Let’s call these smallest units of time moments. Thus, a transtemporal understanding of the first IJPR account says that S’s existence at moment m is explained by (i) the absence of sufficiently causally destructive factors operative on S from (m-1) to m [where (m-1) is the moment immediately prior to m], plus (ii) S’s state and/or existence at (m-1) causally producing S’s existence at m (and perhaps state at m). An explanation for S’s persistence simpliciter through a series of moments will come by way of the application of this explanatory schema to each non-first moment m of S’s existence in the series of moments.

That, then, is the transtemporal understanding of the first IJPR account that we’ll work with. Now let’s consider the no-change understanding of the first IJPR account.

In general, no-change accounts of EIT view persistence as an absence of change and take this fact to be central to their inertialist-friendly explanation of persistence. The no-change account we’ll consider here is one I’ve mentioned both in this series of responses to Feser and in Section 3 of my lengthier response to Feser. Here’s how it goes.

For S to fail to exist at m despite existing at (m-1) 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 at (m-1), 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-1) to m — it simply follows that S exists at m. [Cf. Section 4.1 in the lengthier blog post for those interested in pursuing this line of thought even further.]

Here, we seem to have a perfectly respectable, perfectly legitimate explanation of S’s existence at m — and the explanation 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 [to wit, at (m-1)], (ii) nothing causally induced S’s cessation at (m-1) or m [i.e., nothing destroyed S from the immediately prior moment, (m-1), 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. For me at least, the explanation certainly seems to remove mystery as to why/how S exists at m. The present explanation does, indeed, tell us how S exists at m.

————

[Fn] I addressed an objection to this argument [or, rather, explanatory schema] 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 — just search “4.1.2”.

————

To be sure, the disambiguation above — that between transtemporal and no-change understandings of the first IJPR account — is not found in the IJPR article. That’s why I said, at the beginning, that this is an aspect of the IJPR paper I would modify. Of course, Feser is not responsible (and nor will I take him to be, as we proceed in this post) for ignoring this disambiguation. But given that this disambiguation represents my current, actual views on the IJPR paper, I will proceed in my analysis of what Feser says with the disambiguation in mind. (It would be unreasonable, of course, for one to demand that I defend the non-disambiguated-version from the IJPR paper if I disagree with its being non-disambiguated in the manner it was!)

Let’s pick back up, then, with what Feser says: “Now, an objection that might be raised against existential inertia thus understood (and one I have raised in my exchanges with Graham Oppy and in my previous reply to Schmid) is that it is viciously circular.  Existential inertia would be a property or power of the water.  So, the water’s persistence from t – 1 to t would, on this account, depend on this property or power.  But properties and powers depend for their reality on the substances that possess them.  So, we seem to have a situation where the water’s persistence depends on that of a property or power which in turn depends on the persistence of the water.”

I have responded to this circularity objection in Section 3 of my lengthier blog post, but I will also address it here.

First, neither my transtemporal understanding nor my no-change understanding of the first IJPR account entail that inertial persistence is a property or power. Both of the accounts could, for instance, be perfectly acceptable to philosophers of an anti-realist bent who think there are no such things as properties or powers. There is simply nothing in the articulations above that entail EI’s being a property or power.

Second, in order for Feser’s circularity argument to work, the two articulations must cite explanatory facts that presuppose the (explanatorily or ontologically) prior obtaining the relevant explanandum. But that is simply untrue, as I will now show.

In the case of the transtemporal understanding of the first IJPR account, we have:

Explanans 1: (i) there is an absence of sufficiently causally destructive factors operative on S from (m-1) to m [where (m-1) is the moment immediately prior to m], and (ii) the state and/or existence of temporal concrete objects (or, at least, those within EIT’s quantificational domain) at a given moment (m-1) at which they exist causally produce their existence at the next moment, m, provided that no sufficiently causally destructive factors are operative.

Explanandum: S’s existence at m

In the case of the no-change understanding of the first IJPR account, we have:

Explanans 2: (i) S existed immediately before m — that is, at (m-1) — (ii) if S existed immediately before m but fails to exist at m, then S’s cessation is (or involves, or entails) some kind of change, (iii) nothing causally induces S’s cessation at (m-1) or m — that is, nothing destroyed S from the immediately prior moment, (m-1), through m — and (iv) a change occurs only if some factor causally induces said change.

Explanandum: S’s existence at m

Now, I think it’s quite clear that neither Explanans 1 nor Explanans 2 presuppose the prior reality or obtaining of Explanandum. In other words, none of the explanatory facts adduced in Explanans 1 or Explanans 2 are dependent upon the fact cited in the Explanandum. And in that case, Feser’s allegation of viciously circular (explanatory) dependence has no teeth against the transtemporal and no-change understandings of the first IJPR account. It is simply false, of both of these understandings, that there is some property or power that both explains and is explained by some fact.

[Keep in mind, moreover, that there are many more inertialist-friendly explanations besides, and that these, too, do not fall prey to charges of vicious circularity. Cf. the various documents I linked in Section 2.2 of my lengthier blog post.]

So far I’ve offered two responses to the vicious circularity charge. First, neither of the understandings of the first IJPR account treat (or entail that) inertial persistence is a property or power. Second, the explanations proffered in neither of the understandings are viciously circular. Here’s a third response to the vicious circularity charge. Suppose — contrary to what I believe — that existential inertia were a property. This would only be problematic if we accepted the controversial thesis that properties ground character — that is, it is in virtue of possessing/exemplifying/instantiating (say) the property redness that something is red. But suppose we reject this thesis and adopt its opposite: it is rather in virtue of being red that something possesses/etc. the property redness. Under this anti-character-grounding view, it is simply false — pace Feser — that existential inertia’s being a property entails that the water exists at m [or persists from (m-1) to m] because it has the property of existential inertia. Rather, the substance has the property of existential inertia because it exists at m [or persists from (m-1) to m] in an inertial fashion. So even if existential inertia were a property [it’s not], Feser’s argument still won’t work.

One of my friends [Luiz] suggested to me a fourth response to Feser’s argument. Luiz argues that it is false that all properties of a substance inhere in the substance and have an asymmetric dependence relation to the substance. And in that case, one of Feser’s key claims — that properties depend for their reality on the substances that possess them — is false. (Or, at least, I assume Feser is saying that this applies to all properties. For if it only applies to some properties, then his argument would be invalid [this is invalid: (1) EI is a property; (2) some properties depend on substances [i.e., the substances that have them]; (3) Therefore, EI depends on substances.)

Luiz gives examples of properties of substances that don’t depend thereon. (Or, at least, examples that would be kosher by the lights of our Aristotelian-Thomistic friends.) These include what Aristotle calls secondary substances (species, genera) and specific differences (essential properties) as well as transcendental properties (being, unity, goodness, truth) which cannot depend upon the substance that possesses them in the same asymmetric way an accident is.

In any case, I’m still reflecting on Luiz’s argument as a fourth response. I offer it here because I see value in it and because you might too.

Feser: “Schmid considers something like this “circularity” objection (though his exposition of it seems to me to be quite murky, so it is possible that he has something else in mind).  In response to it, he says that if the objection had any force, it would have force against any account of the persistence of the water, including an account that attributes its persistence to God.  For if we suppose that God causes the water to persist from t – 1 to t, then we will be presupposing that it is possible for it to persist from t – 1 to t, and thus won’t be giving a non-circular explanation of how it is possible for it to do so.  And if the theist replies that God gives the water the ability to persist, then this will only push the problem back a stage insofar as it will presuppose that God has the ability to do so.”

I find this to be a very odd response, and I confess that I’m not sure I even understand what Schmid is going on about.  The circularity objection has nothing do with presupposing that it is possible for something to persist, or with presupposing that things have abilities, or anything like whatever Schmid is talking about.  Rather, it has to do with the fact that properties and powers are ontologically dependent on substances, so that substances cannot without circularity be said to be ontologically dependent on properties or powers.

Again, perhaps that is not the objection Schmid is talking about.  But if it isn’t, then I’m not sure what he is talking about.  Certainly he doesn’t seem to be talking about (a) an objection that any critic of EIT has actually given, or (b) an objection that is interesting.”

Oddly, Feser says “Certainly [Schmid] doesn’t seem to be talking about (a) an objection that any critic of EIT has actually given, or (b) an objection that is interesting.”

First, I never claimed any critic of EIT has given this in the literature. But I did receive precisely this objection from those critical of the account in question. (I wrote the paper years ago, and so I don’t remember who precisely raised the objection to me. In all probability, it was an anonymous referee.) And Feser’s finding it uninteresting is itself uninteresting and irrelevant, since it was an objection I received and needed to deal with.

Moreover, I don’t find the objection I was considering in the paper murky at all, and nor did the reviewers of the paper or other philosophers [e.g. Josh Rasmussen] I’ve discussed it with. But I guess I can try to explain it in a clearer way here for Feser and those who find it murky.

For starters, the objection I was considering is not the circularity objection Feser raises in the blog post and to which I responded above, and so it is irrelevant for Feser to point out that the objection I was considering ‘has nothing do’ with his objection. The correct response is ‘And? I wasn’t addressing your objection here.’

To get a better sense of the objection, let’s have a look at the paper:

The objection is that the explanans [the immediately temporally prior state and existence of O plus nothing intervening between that prior moment and the present moment] cannot explain the present existence of O (pace the account) — that is, it cannot explain the persistence of O from that immediately prior moment to the present moment — since it merely presupposes that O has the ability to persist from that prior state to the present state. But surely it was precisely this ability to persist that was trying to be explained!

My response was that it is not (pace the objection) the ability of O to persist that was trying to be explained. Rather, it is O’s actually persisting that is trying to be explained. So my response was that the objection under consideration mischaracterizes the explanandum. I then went on to circumvent an objection that was next leveled to me [after making the above response]: but doesn’t O’s actually persisting itself presuppose O’s ability to persist, i.e., the possibility that O persists? To circumvent this, I pointed out that any explanation of persistence will, of course, presuppose the possibility that O persists — after all, if it’s impossible that O persist, then clearly there won’t be any true explanation of O’s persistence. So yes, my account does presuppose the possibility that O persists, but this is not a problem for the account. What matters is whether or not the account presupposes the actual persistence of O. And I proceeded to point out that it doesn’t; instead, it provides a means by which such actual persistence is secured.

I don’t see anything murky here. It’s a perfectly natural dialectic, with a clear objection and rejoinder, responding to a natural-but-ultimately-misguided objection I had received.

Feser: “Anyway, Schmid goes on to discuss a further possible objection to this first way of spelling out EIT, one grounded in a presentist theory of time.  The objection would be that what happens at t – 1 cannot explain what happens at the present moment t, because (according to presentism) past moments like t – 1 no longer exist, and what does not exist cannot be the explanation of anything.  Schmid responds to this possible objection by setting out several arguments in defense of the claim that past events can play a role in explaining present ones.

Schmid does not attribute this objection to anyone, and as he rightly notes, presentists in fact do not in general claim in the first place that past events play no role in explaining the present.  So what is the point of devoting several pages to an argument no presentist has given or is likely to give?  I’m not sure, and I don’t myself have anything to add to what Schmid says in response to it.”

It’s not hard to think of an obvious purpose that justifies its inclusion: maybe I received the objection from someone critical of the account. And that is precisely what happened. (Once more, I don’t remember who it was, as this all happened years ago. But once more, in all probability, it was an anonymous referee.)

Feser: “Certainly the fact that the past is relevant to explaining the present gives (contrary to what Schmid seems to think) no support to EIT.”

This is odd. To my knowledge, nowhere do I claim in the article that the explanatory efficacy of past things supports EIT. My goal in sketching the account, there, is to point out that one metaphysical account of EIT says that past things are sufficient to explain present things. I wasn’t trying to support [i.e., positively justify] the account in talking about the explanatory efficacy of past things. Rather, I was first and foremost responding to an objection I had received that denied this, and secondly I was using it to set up my undercutting defeater for premise (7) of the Aristotelian proof.

Here’s how the undercutting defeater goes:

‘All I need to do is point out that nothing in premise (7) or that which is said on its behalf gives those who do think past things suffice to explain present things sufficient reason to abandon their position. I do not need to positively justify why past things do suffice to explain present things. I need only point out that nothing said in premise (7) or on its behalf gives those who accept the explanatory sufficiency of past things adequate reason to abandon their position. And here’s something that seems to bolster this undercutting defeater: we know that past things can and do legitimately explain, at least in part, present things. Given this, why should someone who thinks this suffices be moved to postulate something in addition?’

What I write about this in the article is as follows:

In fairness to those who think <Joe claims that the arguments Joe gives positively justify or support the thesis that past things suffice to explain present things>, in the passage above I did not distinguish between ‘sufficiently explain’ and ‘explain at least in part’, and I certainly should have. For I am intending here to point out that past things can and do legitimately explain, at least in part, present things. For purposes of clarity, I should have included this. But it is still true that I reference, in the sentence, ‘the above arguments’. And so my conclusion here — a conclusion of those arguments — is supposed to be drawn precisely from those arguments. And as we inspect the arguments, it is clear that I mean that past things can and do explain, at least in (large) part, present things. E.g., I say therein that “although our experience of an object temporally lags behind the object itself, the object itself nevertheless explains our experience. And this, in turn, entails that earlier states explain later states.” But here I clearly don’t mean that the object sufficiently explains our experience. A sufficient explanation of my experience also clearly needs to cite a functioning visual and neurophysiological apparatus, and so on.

Now let’s continue with what Feser says.

Feser: “For what is at issue in the debate over EIT and EET is not whether what happens at t – 1 is part of the explanation of what is true of the water at t, but rather whether it is by itself sufficient to explain what is true of it at t.”

I have two responses.

First:

It is true that this is part of what’s at issue in the debate over EIT and EET, but we also have to be clear about the burden of proof in the present dialectical context. In particular, we must remember that in the dialectical context of the IJPR paper [namely, the Aristotelian proof and whether one can “sufficiently undercut the argument” (p. 203 of my paper, emphasis added) by showing that its rejection of EIT “is not adequately justified” (ibid.)], Feser is the one offering a positive argument one of whose premises requires that what happened prior to t is not sufficient to explain the water’s existence at t. By contrast, in spelling out my first account of EIT and in leveling my overarching EIT-based undercutting defeater of premise (7), I do not take a stance on whether or not what happened prior to t is by itself sufficient to explain the water’s existence at t. [Yes, according to the first account, it is sufficient to explain it. But I don’t positively claim, in the article, that the first account is true. I sketched it to facilitate the overarching EIT-based undercutting defeater of the Aristotelian proof.] Rather, my aim is to point out that nothing in premise (7) or what Feser says on its behalf gives those who do think ‘what happened prior to t is sufficient to explain the water’s existence at t’ — that is, those who do accept the first IJPR account — sufficient reason to abandon their view. The onus is thus not on me to give positive reasons for thinking what happened prior to t is sufficient to explain the water’s existence at t. Rather, all I need to do is point out that (i) in order for Feser’s proof to succeed, he needs to positively show that what happened prior to t is not sufficient for the water to exist at t, and that (ii) he has not succeeded in showing this. And so we must keep in mind that it is no mark against my paper or my case that I don’t positively justify the first IJPR account, i.e., that I don’t positively justify that past things do suffice to explain the present existence of something.

——–

[Fn] To be sure, I do go on to mount some reasons favoring EIT in the theoretical virtues section of the paper. But this is simply meant to bolster and strengthen my EIT-based undercutting defeater. I had already explained the undercutting nature of my overall thesis in the stage-setting bit of my paper [e.g., I was seeking to “sufficiently undercut the argument” (p. 20e, emphasis added) by arguing that its rejection of EIT “is not adequately justified” (ibid.).

——–

In short, I want us all to keep in mind the dialectical context: detractors of the Aristotelian proof don’t need to positively justify or establish that what happened prior to t is sufficient to explain the water’s existence at t. They only need to point out that the Aristotelian proof fails to justify why they aren’t sufficient.

Second:

I have argued in this blog post, Section 3 of my lengthier blog post, and Part 2 that at least with the no-change understanding of the first IJPR account, the explanatory facts adduced are, indeed, sufficient. Indeed, if by ‘sufficient explanation’ we mean an explanation citing facts that remove mystery as to why the explanandum obtains, then I confess that — by my lights — the no-change understanding certainly removes mystery [for me, at least] as to why and how S exists at m. The explanandum was simply derived from the explanatory facts cited, and to me at least, they illuminate precisely why S exists at m. And I also confess that the same is true [again, by my lights] with the transtemporal understanding of the first IJPR account. By examining Explanans 1 from earlier, once more S’s existence at m is simply derived from the explanatory facts adduced. And those facts certainly do seem, to me, to remove mystery as to why S exists at m.

To be sure, there might be the further question about why some of those explanatory facts themselves obtain. For instance, there might be the question as to why reality is so constituted that the successive stages in an object’s life are related by causal relations. But this is a separate question from why S exists at m. And, plausibly, it won’t be all that difficult to provide plausible stories for the former question. [Indeed, it’s not clear why explaining it would be any more difficult than explaining why reality is so constituted so as to have any causal relations at all (ever), or is so constituted so as to have causal relations other than those relating the successive stages of an object’s life, or what have you.] Finally, to quote Beaudoin, “it is not a condition on legitimate explanation that a deeper explanation for every statement in the explanans always be ready to hand, or even that it exist at all” (2007, p. 89).

Anyway, let’s move on.

Feser: “(I have to say that I wonder what kind of rhetorical effect this kind of stuff has on Schmid’s readers, some of whom – judging from my combox – seem very impressed by it.  Schmid’s discussion of this first interpretation of EIT occupies almost five pages of analysis, with the standard bells and whistles that we analytic philosophers pick up in grad school and from reading academic journal articles – semi-formal formulations, the entertaining of various hypotheticals, and so on.  Other things Schmid has written, such as the article addressed in my previous post on Schmid, have a similar character.  Untutored readers, especially those whose knowledge of philosophy is largely drawn from blog posts, Reddit discussions, and the like, are bound to think: “Wow, this is so technical and rigorous!”  Yet in fact the analysis is sometimes not terribly clear, and in this case it is devoted to criticizing claims that no critic of EIT has actually made or is likely to make in the first place!  So it seems to me that some of the rigor is specious.)”

I have already addressed the allegation that the analysis is not terribly clear. To be sure, I can’t stop Feser from finding it murky. But I can at least report that neither I myself, nor the referees of the paper, nor philosophers and other colleagues I’ve conversed with about the matter, found it murky. I have also already addressed Feser’s claim that “no critic of EIT has actually made” these criticisms “or is likely to make [them] in the first place”. Apparently addressing actual criticisms I received [in all probability, from reviewers] hasn’t crossed Feser’s mind as a plausible explanation of why it’s included. And so I take his allegations here to be specious.

Feser: “Schmid considers a second possible account of EIT, according to which existential inertia is simply a basic or primitive feature of reality.  He suggests that one way of reading this claim, in turn, is that it is a necessary feature of reality that things have existential inertia. But there are two obvious problems with this.  The first is that there is no reason to believe it.  (I’ll come back to that.)”

But there are many obvious problems with Feser’s response here. First, the purpose of spelling out the metaphysical accounts of EIT is not to provide positive reasons for accepting them. Rather, the purpose is to flesh out the inertial thesis, to pinpoint that in virtue of which it is true if it is true at all.

Second, in the present dialectical context, I do not need to give positive reasons to believe this account of EIT. Once again — and this is a point I made repeatedly in Section 3 of my lengthier blog post — in the present dialectical context of Feser’s Aristotelian proof, the onus is not on detractors to positively justify this account of EIT. They need only point out that (i) nothing in premise (7) or that which Feser says on its behalf adequately justify denying the account, and that (ii) justifying such a denial is precisely what would need to be done for the proof to work. In other words, the account need only be proffered as an undercutting defeater, and one need only point out that nothing that Feser says in his chapter gives those who do accept the account sufficient reason to abandon their position.

Third, it’s false that ‘there is no reason to believe it’. You may not agree with the following line of reasoning, but it’s obvious that it at least represents a reason to believe this account of EIT: Suppose we have reason to think presentism is true. Suppose we have reason to think that if presentism is true, then the facts or truths [about temporal realities, like ‘dinosaurs exist’] change. Suppose we have reason to think that if the facts or truths themselves change, then any omniscient being’s knowledge likewise changes [since knowledge is factive, and hence if the facts or truths themselves change, the knowledge couldn’t remain unchanged]. Suppose we think that if a being’s knowledge changes, it’s not timeless. Then we have reason to think that any omniscient being isn’t timeless. Suppose, then, that we have reason to think that if there is a timeless sustaining cause of temporal things, then this timeless sustaining cause would be an omniscient God. Since we have reason to think that no omniscient being is timeless, we thereby have reason to think that there is no timeless sustaining cause of temporal things. We thereby have reason to think that at least some temporal things [debarring infinitely descending chains of per se causal dependence] persist in the absence of sustenance from without. We thereby have reason to think (a version of) EIT is true. And as I argued in the stage-setting portion of my IJPR paper, EET or EIT would be necessarily true if true at all. So we have reason to think EIT is necessarily true. This alone could justifiably raise one’s credence in the present account of EIT and thereby constitute some reason to accept it.

To be sure, I’m not here claiming that the above argument succeeds in demonstrating EIT or the second IJPR account under consideration. I’m simply pointing out that it’s just false — pace Feser — to say that ‘there is no reason’ to accept the account in question. Even if you don’t think the reason is adequate, or don’t think some step in the line of argument works, to say there is no reason here at all just strikes me as obviously wrong.

For these three reasons, Feser’s first “obvious” problem for the second IJPR account ‘obviously’ fails.

Before turning to what Feser says next, I once more want to flag that the second IJPR account is another element of the IJPR paper I would slightly modify if I could. In particular, I think it needs some clarification about what, precisely — if anything — is doing the explanatory heavy-lifting here.

In subsequent work, I’ve come to call this account a ‘propositional necessity account’ of EIT, and I wish to add greater clarity to the account from the IJPR paper. Henceforth, I’ll call this the propositional necessity understanding of the second IJPR account. To be sure, not everything I’m about to say is found in the IJPR article. That’s why I said that this is an aspect of the IJPR paper I would modify. Of course, Feser is not responsible (and nor will I take him to be, as we proceed in this post) for ignoring these clarifications. But given that such clarifications represent my current, actual views on the IJPR paper, I will proceed in my analysis of what Feser says with the clarification in mind.

Propositional necessity accounts explain the truth of EIT in terms of its necessary truth. Such accounts therefore adduce the necessary truth of the proposition reporting EIT as an explanation of the proposition’s truth. Why does O (for each O within EIT’s quantificational domain) persist, according to such accounts? Simply because (i) it is a metaphysically necessary truth that, if O exists, O persists unless and until positively destroyed, and (ii) O has not (yet) been subjected to sufficiently destructive factors.

According to this propositional necessity understanding of the second IJPR account, inertial persistence is “a basic, primitive, foundational feature of reality”, by which the paper means that it neither analyzes into nor “obtain[s] in virtue of more fundamental/basic facts” (2021, p. 209). By ‘necessary feature of reality’, it is clear from context that the IJPR paper means that EIT itself—that is, the existential inertia thesis—is simply a metaphysically necessary truth.[1] The truth of EIT, then, is explained by the metaphysical necessity thereof; and its metaphysical necessity is not explained in terms of any more basic or fundamental truths.

Does this account accrue a theoretical cost by ending in a primitive or unexplained necessity? It’s not clear that it does. The proposition for which we seek an explanation is that temporal concrete objects persist. Let this proposition be p. Now, the chain of explanations of p is either finite or infinite. If it’s infinite, then it’s unclear that we actually have an adequate explanation of p, after all. If p obtains in virtue of q1, and q1 obtains in virtue of q2, and so on ad infinitum, arguably we have simply infinitely deferred an adequate explanation of p. This kind of infinite dependence regress, in many philosophers’ eyes, is vicious. So suppose that the chain of explanations of p is finite. In that case, the chain ends in something that is not further explained—that is, it ends in something primitive.[2] In that case, though, it is surely no mark against the propositional necessity understanding of the second IJPR account that it, too, ends in something primitive, since every explanation of p—if the aforementioned reasoning holds—must likewise end in something primitive.[3]

But perhaps someone will object that this propositional necessity account stops the explanatory buck too early. For there are further explanations available—ones that are viable and illuminating. All else being equal, if we have a viable, readily-available, illuminating explanation for x, then we shouldn’t adopt a view on which x is simply brute. We should, instead, explain things as far as we can. Schmid’s propositional necessity account violates this. It explains persistence ultimately by appeal to metaphysical necessity, which in turn is taken to be a brute or primitive necessity. But there is a viable, readily-available, illuminating explanation of persistence in terms of the sustaining activity of something timeless. Yes, this explanation will eventually bottom out in some primitive metaphysical necessity; but unlike Schmid’s account, it doesn’t fall afoul of stopping the explanatory buck too early.

Or so the objection goes. What to make of it?

I have two responses. First, even if the alternative account adducing timeless sustenance has an explanatory advantage over the propositional necessity account, the latter is far more parsimonious than the former in terms of both quantitative simplicity (the number of entities postulated) and qualitative simplicity (the number of irreducible kinds of entities postulated). For the former posits not only more entities (namely, timeless concreta in addition to temporal concreta, as well as relations obtaining between the two) but also more kinds of entities (namely, the new category of timeless concreta). Thus, even granting an explanatory advantage to the timeless sustenance view, it’s not at all clear that it is superior to the propositional necessity account all things considered.

Second, it’s not at all clear that the timeless sustenance view enjoys an explanatory advantage. For it only seems to multiply rather than reduce mystery. What, for instance, does the timeless-to-temporal explanatory relation consist in? How can something timeless cause (or ground, or realize, or whatever) temporal things? If a dynamic view of time is correct, wouldn’t the timeless cause change at least in its relational properties, thereby entailing succession in its life (and, hence, temporality)?[4] Moreover, why does the timeless cause seem to make a concerted effort to ensure that objects only cease to exist once they are positively destroyed? This harkens back to an observation made in Oderberg (2014): we witness things ceasing to exist when and only when they are subjected to destructive forces. But this seems wholly mysterious if there is an altogether separate way for such objects to cease to exist (namely, a withdrawal of timeless sustaining activity). If the timeless sustainer genuinely could remove its sustaining activity at any moment of an object’s life, it becomes a mystery why this never seems to occur for objects (except when and only when the objects are subject to destructive forces—but even in these cases, it is surely the destructive factors, not the withdrawal of timeless sustenance, that explain the object’s cessation).[5] (I note that this problem is compounded even further for classical theism, since absolutely nothing about God himself varies across worlds in which he timelessly sustains O from t* to t (t* < t) versus worlds in which God withdraws his timeless sustenance at any point between t* and t — in which case, we cannot point to any fact about God that varies or differs across such worlds to account for why, in one world, O persists from t* to t as opposed to being annihilated at some point therebetween. (Is ‘therebetween’ a word? IT IS NOW!!!!) And I add, moreover, that there are many, many more worlds of the latter kind than the former, given how many moments there are in the typical object’s life.]

Obviously, none of the aforementioned questions amount to objections. My purpose in posing them is to illustrate that the timeless sustenance account seems merely to raise more questions than it answers. It only seems to multiply rather than reduce mystery when it comes to explaining persistence. This is why I say it’s not at all clear that the timeless sustenance account enjoys an explanatory advantage over my propositional necessity account.


[1] The paper describes the account, for instance, as one according to which EIT is “a primitive necessity” (2021, p. 210). The account is thus clearly a propositional necessity account.

[2] One might think that the terminus of the chain of explanations—while not explained by any further proposition—is nevertheless self-explanatory. I have two responses. First, I find it plausible that nothing can explain or account for why it itself is true (or obtains, or exists) at all. For in order to have any explanatory power in the first place, it would ‘already’ (as it were) have to be true (obtain, exist). (‘Already’ expresses not temporal but ontological priority.) Plausibly, one cannot merely presuppose the very thing for which one sought illumination. (Also, just imagine: if we ask why q is true, it’s no use responding ‘because q is true’. Surely, I say, this explains nothing!) But suppose I’m wrong about the impossibility of self-explanation. Suppose, in other words, that some propositions can explain their own truth. Presumably, this will involve the proposition having a kind of ‘intrinsic intelligibility’—once the proposition is grasped, there is no mystery concerning why it is true. This brings us to my second response: plausibly, no explanation of persistence will be self-explanatory—in which case, each explanation of persistence will end in an unexplained primitive. And in that case, the fact that my propositional necessity account ends in an unexplained primitive is not a mark against it as an explanation of persistence. Consider explanations of persistence that deny EIT. Such explanations either adduce one or more atemporal concrete objects that sustain temporal objects or else an infinitely descending chain of more fundamental temporal concrete objects sustaining or conserving less fundamental temporal concrete objects (of which the former aren’t parts). But surely neither the proposition <there is such an atemporal concrete object> nor <there is such an infinitely descending chain> are self-explanatory.

[3] We could go further: this primitive is either contingent or necessary. But contingent propositions—precisely because they genuinely could have been false—seem to call out for further explanations of why they are true. (Cf. Pruss (2006) for an extended defense of the thesis that every contingent proposition has an explanation.) Plausibly, then, the primitive must be necessary. But then any explanation of p terminates in a primitive necessity, and so surely it’s no mark against my propositional necessity account that its explanation of p terminates in a primitive necessity.

[4] For example, assuming that x is causally sustained by the timeless cause, the timeless cause will arguably acquire a relational (causal) property once x begins to exist and lose a relational (causal) property once x ceases to exist. To be sure, such changes need not be intrinsic to the timeless thing. There are plenty of cases where a subject gains or loses some relational property without undergoing intrinsic change. (A father might become shorter than his son solely because his son has grown.) But even in such cases, the subject of the extrinsically relational change is temporal, since it can only gain or lose the relational property if there are distinct moments m and m* of its life at which the relational property is had and then lacked (or vice versa). Much, much more can be said here on both sides of the issue, but this suffices for a footnote.

[5] One might say that the timeless sustainer is necessitated to engage in such sustaining activity. But why would that be? Is this just a brute or primitive necessity? Going this route will similarly multiply mysteries, it seems. (Detractors of EIT of a theist stripe will likely resist this response, too, as it seems to remove the timeless God’s freedom.)


Onward we march to Feser’s second “obvious” problem.

Feser: “The second is that there is positive reason to disbelieve it.  Again, with lions, Tyrannosauruses, water, etc., there is simply nothing about their natures or essences that entails that they exist at all.  So how could it be just a basic and necessary feature of a world comprised of such things that they persist in existence?”

There isn’t much I can evaluate here, since Feser just asks a question and, in doing so, perhaps supposes that his audience shares his intuition that the following conditional claim is true:

CONDITIONAL: If O’s existing at all is not a basic and necessary fact, then O’s persisting (once in existence) is not a basic and necessary fact.

I don’t find CONDITIONAL implausible, but I also don’t quite find it plausible. Someone who accepts the propositional necessity account will presumably just say: ‘CONDITIONAL amounts to a mere denial of my view. Why, then, should I accept it?’.

Feser next says: “Schmid also suggests that the thesis that it is a necessary feature of reality that lions, water, etc. have existential inertia is no less plausible a terminus of explanation than the thesis that God, qua pure actuality, exists of necessity.  Both theses, he claims, posit something “primitive,” but EIT is more parsimonious.”

I do suggest this in the paper, but I would modify the second IJPR account to include the clarifications above about what, precisely, is doing the explanatory heavy-lifting and how, precisely, the account compares with a rival timeless sustenance account. Next Feser says:

“But this is quite absurd. As I argue in Five Proofs and in my article on existential inertia (both of which Schmid purports to be responding to in the present article), the reason contingent things are contingent is that they are composed of parts, and in particular that they have potentialities as well as actualities.”

But it is quite absurd to say that the reason contingent things are contingent is that they are composed of parts, and in particular that they have potentialities and actualities. Consider the number two. The number two has various properties, such as the property of being even. But anything with various properties is a composite thing, by the lights of those who accept a broadly classical theistic understanding of parthood. (This is one reason they deny that God has a multiplicity of properties — that would, by their lights, entail that God has parts, whereas God is simple.) So the number two is a composite thing. But the number two is not a contingent thing. It’s not like the number two just happens to exist in some worlds and not others. So surely the reason why something is contingent is not that it is composed of parts. Or consider a view of God on which God is timeless, immutable, impassible, necessarily existent, but nevertheless has some potential for cross-world variance [say, God has potential to have timelessly performed an act of creation that is numerically distinct from his actual act of creation, or God has potential to have different intrinsic knowledge states (timelessly) across worlds, or whatever). It is obvious that nothing about God (so construed) having some potential for cross-world variance compromises God’s being metaphysically necessarily existent. And so surely the reason why something is contingent is not that it has potentialities as well as actualities.

Again, whether or not you think the number two exists, or whether or not you accept this model of God, that’s irrelevant, since we are concerned with in principle counter-examples to the claim that the reason something is contingent is because it is composite, or that it has potentialities as well as actualities.

I don’t think, then, that we should be sanguine about what Feser says in the quoted passage.

Feser: “So, when we say that God is absolutely simple rather than composite and that he is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, we have given an explanation of his lacking contingency – that is, of his existing of necessity.”

But that isn’t the point I was getting at. The point I was getting at is that even if you have an explanation of the necessity, we can equally well ask, of your explanation, why is that the case? What explains God’s being purely actual and non-composite? [Side note to some: I am not here asking about what justifies believing that God is purely actual or simple. I’m asking about what explains why this is so.] And as I argued above in connection with the propositional necessity understanding of the second IJPR account, it will ultimately be a primitive or basic fact — a necessary one, to be sure — that there is this simple, purely actual thing. One cannot appeal to its simplicity or its pure actuality to explain its simplicity or pure actuality, for that is circular. And one cannot appeal to its necessity to explain its simplicity or its pure actuality, since Feser appealed to its simplicity and/or pure actuality precisely to explain its necessity. And so both accounts end in some primitive fact. Feser might argue that his account is more illuminating, or that my account stops the explanatory buck too early. But then I will simply raise the same responses I leveled earlier in comparing the propositional necessity account to the timeless sustenance account.

Feser: “By contrast, Schmid’s proposal is that the world is made up of things that are contingent, composite, and have potentialities as well as actualities – and yet for all that it is still somehow just a necessary fact about the world that these things have existential inertia!”

Feser isn’t to blame for this, but — importantly — nothing Feser says here does anything to target the earlier comparison of the timeless sustenance account with the propositional necessity understanding of the second IJPR account. I argued therein that not only is the latter far simpler [and, hence, even if I granted that Feser has an explanatory advantage over this specific account, it’s an open question whether this sufficiently outweighs the cost in complexity], but also that the timeless sustenance account raises more questions than it answers and more mysteries than it resolves, and hence it is far from obvious whether it is explanatorily superior to the propositional necessity account in the first place.

Feser: “This is not a case of being presented with a choice between two alternative possible ultimate explanations, the Thomist’s and Schmid’s.  Rather, it is a case of being presented with a choice between an explanation and an unexplained and indeed counterintuitive brute fact.”

I have already addressed the reasons Feser proffered on behalf of his conclusion here, and so I have nothing to add except for the fact that Feser has not at all successfully done away with the propositional necessity understanding of the second IJPR account.

In Part 6, I’ll examine Feser’s section ‘Theoretical vices’.

———-

Bonus Stuff

For those who want to explore different metaphysical accounts of EIT even further, I advise y’all to check out the following:

(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.]


Theoretical Virtues and Vices | Part 6

This post is Part 6, which deals with everything Feser says in his section ‘Theoretical vices’.

Feser writes: “This naturally brings us to Schmid’s claim that EIT enjoys several “theoretical virtues” (i.e. virtues of a kind that a good theory ought to possess).  He starts his discussion in this section of the paper by suggesting that the reason things exist at all may be that it is metaphysically necessary that something or other exists.  And in the same way, he suggests, the reason things persist in existence may be that it is simply metaphysically necessary that they do so.  EIT thus provides an explanation of a familiar fact of our experience, viz. that things persist.

To see what is wrong with this, consider the following dialogue:

Bob: Why did Ed start to drink that martini?

Fred: Hmm, maybe it was metaphysically necessary that he do so?

Bob: Wow, that’s an interesting explanation!  And why do you think he kept drinking it once he started?

Fred: I’ve got it – maybe that was metaphysically necessary too!

Bob: Brilliant!  You should write a paper.

I take it you agree with me that Fred’s explanation is not in fact that brilliant.  For why on earth would anyone think it even prima facie plausible that it is necessary that I start to drink a martini?  True, my nightly routine might for a moment make you wonder, but after a moment’s reflection you’d realize that there are many factors that would prevent it from being necessary – I could run out of gin, or the kids could hide the bottles, or I could opt for a Scotch instead, or whatever.  And if it is not prima facie plausibly necessary that I start drinking, it is hardly any more prima facie plausible that I will of necessity keep doing so.”

But that is not what I suggest. Let’s read what I say in the paper on this point:

I am quite clear here that I am seeking to explain a contrastive fact: “why do objects, once in existence, persist in existence instead of being instantly annihilated or annihilated at random, arbitrary points during their existence?”, and “objects persist rather than succumb to instant or random annihilation because…”, and “explains why objects persist rather than chaotically being annihilated” (emphasis added in each).

But Feser has here characterized me as explaining persistence simpliciter. But that is to subtly under-describe what I’m doing. I am not seeking to explain, in the passage, mere persistence simpliciter. I’m contrasting two situations: one in which things uniformly and reliably persist absent sufficiently destructive causal factors, and one in which things annihilate at seemingly chaotic or random points in their lives without some sufficiently destructive causal factor operative. And I go on to try and show how EIT nicely explains why we see the former rather than (as opposed to, instead of) the latter.

And I take EIT to have a clearly satisfactory explanation of this contrastive fact. Consider that in debates surrounding the PSR and various causal principles [like those adduced in cosmological-type arguments, such as the Kalam], defenders of such principles will say something like ‘why is it that we see a uniform, regular, intelligible reality rather than things just chaotically popping into and out of existence uncausedly and inexplicably? Why isn’t there chaos instead? Why doesn’t Beethoven, or a raging tiger, or whole swathes of photons just spring into existence without an explanation or cause? Here’s a nice explanation: these don’t happen because such unexplained, uncaused occurrences are simply metaphysically impossible. And this is just to say that the (necessary truth of the) PSR or the causal principle (variously construed) provides a satisfying explanation of the data.’

I find this to be a perfectly kosher explanation. And yet the explanation is structurally identical to mine [essentially replacing ‘EIT’ with ‘PSR/causal principle’ and ‘chaotically ceasing to exist’ with ‘chaotically ceasing and beginning to exist’], and so I take mine, too, to be a perfectly kosher explanation.

Indeed, things get even more interesting when we do a Bayesian comparison between EIT and a classical theistic timeless sustenance (CTTS) account of persistence when it comes to explaining the contrastive fact above. Let that fact be F. Now, recall F: temporal objects, once in existence, uniformly and reliably persist absent sufficiently destructive causal factors as opposed to being annihilated at other points in their lives without being subject to causal destruction. For under EIT as I articulate it in the IJPR paper, the probability of F is 1. In other words, P(F|EIT) = 1. But the probability of F is, I would argue, significantly less than 1 under CTTS. In other words, P(F|CTTS)<<1. And this is all to say that F strongly confirms EIT vis-a-vis CTTS.

Why do I say P(F|CTTS)<<1? Consider that for an object to persist for about 116 days is for it to persist approximately 10000000 seconds. And consider that there are about 1044 Planck times in one second, and hence to persist for about 116 days is to persist for about 1051 Planck times. Now, for each (potential) Plank time in an object’s life, God is free to sustain the object for that Planck time or refrain from so sustaining it, and this is true even if God has sustained the object through previous Planck times. [It’s not as though God suddenly becomes forced or compelled to continue sustaining an object, or as though some moral obligation is newly imposed on him, or whatever.] This entails that for a given world w in which an object persists for (at least) 116 days and is then causally destroyed by something, there are about 1051 worlds in which that object ceases to exist at some point earlier than w due to God’s withdrawal of sustenance. Moreover, under classical theism, God remains utterly invariant across all worlds, and hence there is no difference or variance on God’s end to which one could point in any such world to explain why it came about as opposed to some other world. Thus, conditional on CTTS, the expectation that the single world in which the object persists up to 116 days (when it is finally causally destroyed) obtains rather than any of the other 1051 worlds is very small. And hence the data of F, as applied to this 116-day-lived object, is very unlikely conditional on CTTS, where its probability is 1 conditional on EIT. And hence EIT garners very strong evidential confirmation from F vis-a-vis CTTS. Much more can be said on this line of reasoning, but that suffices for a brief sketch (and, hence, it suffices for the purposes of this blog post).

Long story short, then, it seems to me that EIT not only provides an illuminating explanation of F [just as the PSR/causal principle does with respect to the absence of chaotic beginnings and cessations] but also gains substantial evidential confirmation from F vis-a-vis CTTS. And so Feser’s protestations to the contrary — that is, his protestations that my explanation is not, after all, illuminating (or at least not adequately illuminating) — are mistaken.

Continuing back with Feser: “But the existence and persistence of everyday objects (lions, water, etc.) are in the same boat.  Again, there is nothing in the essence of any of these things that entails that they exist; they are composed of parts, and thus depend for their existence on these parts being combined; they have potentialities which need to be actualized in order for them to exist; and so on.”

I doubt something’s being composite entails that it depends [metaphysically] on its parts, given whole-to-part grounding and whatnot, but I won’t pursue that here. [For those curious, you can read my chapter from my book on the Neo-Platonic proof. [A significant portion of this is also a minor R&R at a journal. So this is for personal use only, please. 🙂 ]

What I will say, though, is that I have already addressed Feser’s argument aiming to bridge the gap from ‘nothing about the essence of these things entails that they exist’ to ‘nothing about the essence of these things entails that they persist’ to ‘they don’t inertially persist, i.e., they need continuous sustenance from without in order to persist’. I addressed this (or a well-nigh identical) argument at length in Part 4.

Feser: “That is why they are contingent.  So, if there is nothing more to reality than things of that sort, how could it be metaphysically necessary that there be things of that sort?  And if it is not prima facie plausibly metaphysically necessary that things of this sort exist at all, how could it be any more prima facie plausibly metaphysically necessary that they must persist in existence?

Of course, that doesn’t entail that there is nothing of which it could be said that it is metaphysically necessary that it exists and persists in existence.  Certainly, this could plausibly be said of something that is absolutely simple and devoid of potentiality (precisely since to be something of that sort is to lack the features that make a thing contingent).  But of course, that’s precisely the sort of thing Schmid wants to avoid positing.”

But, first, I have already explained why ‘this is why they are contingent’ is false. See Part 5 [and, in particular, search “Consider the number two”]. Second, I have already addressed in Part 4 and Part 5 Feser’s conditional argument from ‘not metaphysically necessary that they exist’ to ‘not metaphysically necessary that, once in existence, they persist’.

Feser: “So, Schmid’s proposed “explanation” is really no more interesting than Fred’s.  If we ask “Why does God have existential inertia?” the theist can offer a response: “Because he is non-composite and devoid of potentiality, and thus lacks the features that entail contingency or possible non-existence.”  But if we ask “Why do ordinary contingent things like lions, water, etc. have existential inertia?” all Schmid can say in response is: “I don’t know, but maybe it’s just a necessary fact about them that they have it – wouldn’t that give us a cool explanation of why they persist?”  (Talk about your proverbial “dormitive virtue” explanation!)

Now suppose someone said: “Hey, let’s not be too quick to dismiss Fred’s explanation.  Consider its theoretical virtues, such as parsimony…”  Would you stick around to listen?  Probably not.  There’s no point in considering such theoretical virtues if the “explanation” is already independently known to be a non-starter.  That’s true of Fred’s explanation, and (for all he has shown) it is, for the reasons I’ve given, true of Schmid’s as well.”

But I have already explained why this is not true of the propositional necessity understanding of the second IJPR account, and I have already explained why the explanation is, indeed, illuminating. What’s more, the propositional necessity understanding of the second IJPR account is significantly evidentially confirmed by the data [namely, F]. So I won’t pursue all that again. I will note, though, that Feser hasn’t, so far, raised an objection to my paper that hasn’t been met.

Feser: “There are other problems with Schmid’s discussion in this section of his paper.  For instance, commenting on my example in Five Proofs of the existence of the water in a cup of coffee being explained in terms of the existence of its parts, he notes that it could plausibly be said instead that the parts in fact depend for their existence of the whole.  Indeed, as he notes, that is what I myself have said elsewhere.  He insinuates that there is, accordingly, an incoherence in my position. 

But there is no such incoherence, and Schmid ignores what should be clear from the context of that discussion in Five Proofs, viz. that I am speaking there in a “for the sake of argument” way.  As I said in the book and in my previous post on Schmid, there are several possible ways one could spell out the metaphysics of the water as it exists at a time t: (a) in terms of substantial form and prime matter, after the fashion of Aristotelian hylemorphism, (b) in terms of essence and existence, as a Thomist would, (c) as an aggregate of particles, as a reductive naturalist might, or (d) in yet some other way.  It doesn’t matter for the specific purposes of the argument, and for the sake of ease of exposition and the naturalistic scruples of many readers, I went with (c) even though my own predilection is for (a) and (b).

Schmid’s discussion ignores this, and makes it sound like I am contradicting myself.  Once again, the untutored reader who has read his article (but not Five Proofs) might think he’s raised some devastating criticism, when in fact he has simply failed to read what I wrote carefully.”

There are many things I will say in response to this.

First, I do think greater clarity is called for in my IJPR paper at this point, greater clarity that I implemented in my Sophia paper but did not implement in my IJPR paper. In my IJPR paper, I said Feser treats the coffee’s molecules (and atoms and the bonds between them and whatnot) as sustaining causes. In the interim between writing my IJPR paper and Sophia paper, though, I came to think that there may be some alternative interpretations of Feser’s examples. And so in my Sophia article I made the more precise and cautious claim not that Feser treats them this way but rather that one might treat them in that way. Thus, if I could re-write the IJPR paper, I would follow what I said in the Sophia article. So there is some sense in which I agree with Feser that the IJPR article should be clarified that the specification of parts in the relevant passage is not necessarily one Feser would adhere to.

But — and this is my second point — it is not at all clear from context — at least to me — that Feser is merely proffering this in a ‘for the sake of argument’ way. [To use Feser’s expression, it is murky, from context, whether Feser is proffering this in that manner.] For one thing, he has probably already lost all or nearly all reductive naturalists in the first few pages of his chapter concerning his Aristotelian analysis of change as the transition or reduction from potential being to actual being. This makes it a bit odd — by my lights — that he is concerned to make his examples later in the chapter kosher by the lights of reductive naturalists. This would be like Alex Rosenburg running an argument against Feser’s classical theism by beginning with an atomist account of change as the rearrangement of particles in the void and then later characterizing some of his examples or points in hylemorphist terms ‘for the sake of argument’ so that such examples or points would be kosher to A-T classical theists. For another thing, there is simply no indication, in and around the paragraph where the ‘actualizers’ are being characterized as constituent parts like molecules, that this is done in a ‘for the sake of argument’ way. Consider the following pages:

This is all stated matter-of-factly, not conditionally like ‘the water’s potential to exist here and now is actualized (in part) by the atoms and their being bonded in such-and-such a way — at least according to the reductive naturalist understanding of the situation.’ At the very least, I am hardly to blame for what seems for all the world not to be a conditional, ‘for the sake of argument’ exposition.

It seems to me that the only thing that comes close to legitimizing Feser’s claim that it is ‘clear from context’ that he is characterizing the situation in a ‘for the sake of argument’ way is the following footnote:

But notice something crucial in this footnote: nowhere does Feser renounce the claim that the atoms and molecules and their bonds actualize (at least in part) the water’s potential to exist. Rather, Feser only says that this way of speaking might tempt someone into thinking that the water is nothing but the atoms and molecules and their specific arrangement. And then Feser goes on to explain that he (and Aristotelian hylemorphists) would reject such a reductive view according to which the water is nothing but the aggregate of suitably-arranged atoms. But all of this is perfectly compatible with Feser still holding that it is correct to characterize the situation as one in which the atoms and molecules and bonds actualize (in part) the water’s potential to exist. This is because such a characterization does not imply that the water is nothing but an aggregate of such suitably-arranged atoms.

What’s more, Feser explicitly says that the Aristotelian hylemorphist understanding is not necessary to the argument — in which case, he takes it that the argument can succeed with the non-hylemorphist specification of the situation in the main text. But in that case, it is perfectly kosher for me to point out, as I did in my IJPR article, that Feser has merely pinpointed constituents as opposed to sustaining actualizers of existence.

Here is my third and final point: my overarching point in the IJPR paper stands regardless of whether Feser characterizes the situation in ‘reductive naturalist’ or Aristotelian hylemorphist terms. Even if Feser characterized the situation in hylemorphist terms, the form and matter are not extrinsic sustaining causes, and hence my overarching point at this stage in the paper — that “we lack any good experiential reason to affirm the existence of sustaining causes of existence—precisely what we would expect if EIT were true” — remains true.

Overall, I think it’s false that I have failed to read Feser carefully. Upon painstaking analysis, nothing in Feser (2017, ch. 1) gives me a sense of ‘oh, yeah, this is a for-the-sake-of-argument way of expositing the situation — I don’t actually accept this characterization’. Indeed, I get the opposite sense.

Feser: “Schmid suggests that another virtue of EIT over the thesis that God sustains things in being is that it better accounts for how physical objects maintain their identity over time.  Indeed, he says that “it is unclear that [the latter thesis] can even account for diachronic identity in the first place,” and he goes on to devote two and half pages to developing this theme.

But who on earth ever suggested in the first place that the thesis that God sustains things in being explains the identity of things over time? Not me, and not anyone else as far as I know.  That’s simply not a question that the thesis is trying to address.  You might as well object “But the thesis that God sustains things in being doesn’t account for Feser’s martini habit!”  Who said it did?”

But my paper’s point was not that the thesis that God sustains things in being is (or was ever proposed as) an explanation of diachronic identity. It is clear from the paper that what I was arguing is that once one accepts an explanation of persistence by appeal to Feser’s-Aristotelian-proof-understanding-of theistic sustenance, one thereby threatens diachronic identity. (And this is what I mean when I say the theistic sustenance view at hand ‘doesn’t account for’ or ‘doesn’t account well for’ diachronic identity.) I then point out that one way for the Aristotelian-proof-proponent to avoid this problem is to accept transtemporal explanatory relations [e.g., causal relations] among the successive phases of an object’s life, but that this furnishes the opponent of the Aristotelian proof with an undercutting defeater thereof: once we accept such transtemporal (say) causal relations, why postulate any additional explanatory work done by a sustaining cause? Why not hold — as per the transtemporal understanding of the first IJPR account [cf. Part 5] — that such transtemporal causal relations alone suffice? [Remember, the detractor of the Aristotelian proof need not positively justify the thesis that such relations alone suffice; they need only point out that what is said on behalf of premise (7) does not give those who do think such relations alone suffice adequate reason to abandon their position.]

Feser: “So, why would Schmid think to raise this issue?  The reason is apparent from this passage:

On Feser’s account, God does not act on a previously existent concrete object to conserve it in existence, preserving its original constituents.  Instead, God wholly reconstitutes concrete objects from utter non-being at each and every moment

This makes it sound like my view is that things are annihilated and recreated at every moment.  But I have never said such a thing, and it is not my view.  Conserving things in being is not the same thing as recreating them after they have been annihilated.  Indeed, the whole point is that God keeps them from being annihilated.  And Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysicians don’t explain diachronic identity in terms of divine conservation, but rather in terms of factors intrinsic to substances, such as substantial form and designated matter.  (Cf. my discussion of that issue in Scholastic Metaphysics, Oderberg’s in Real Essentialism, etc.)”

I agree with Feser that greater clarity is needed in the quoted passage. In particular, the passage needs to clarify what it is about Feser’s model that poses the problem. Adding the following clarification to the passage is something I would modify about the IJPR paper if I could. Here is the clarification.

This clarification — one which, again, I fully admit should have been included in the IJPR paper — derives precisely from the same disambiguation of the Aristotelian proof’s causal principle we saw in the sub-section ‘A Tension?’ of Section 3 of my lengthier blog post. In particular, it seems to me that the causal principle may be ambiguous between two different readings:

First reading: 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 cause which makes pi actual (at a given time). [NB: if you don’t like talk of potentials here, substitute ‘possibilities’. Nothing hangs on this.]

Second reading: whenever there is some transition from potential being to actual being — i.e., whenever something that exists in potency is brought from its (ontologically or causally or temporally) prior state of existing in potency to its state of existing in actuality — there is an already actual cause of this transition.

Now, my diachronic identity worry for the Aristotelian-proof-understanding-of theistic sustenance is, I think, predicated on the second reading of the causal principle. For if there is some transition of an entire object from potential being to actual being at each and every moment of an object’s life, there does, indeed, seem to be a problematic kind of continual re-constitution of an object in its entirety. And this, in turn, seems to render this a case not of diachronic identity but instead a series of numerically distinct simulacra. The object seems to be brought about anew, in whole, at each moment of its existence from a (causally or ontologically prior) state of potential being into a state of actual being. So I take it that my points in the IJPR paper do, indeed, constitute a serious worry for the Aristotelian-proof-understanding-of theistic sustenance assuming the second reading.

But what about the first reading? Doesn’t that avoid the problematic ‘continual re-bringing-about of the object from total potential being to total actual being at each moment’ worry that intuitively undermines diachronic identity? Yes. I think it probably avoids the problem.

But if the first reading avoids the problem posed for diachronic identity, then why didn’t I consider it in the paper?

I have two responses. My first response is that I have already said that I should have made this disambiguation between the different readings of the causal principle in the paper. So I admit that this should have been included. There are, though, underlying reasons why I only went with the second reading. That is my second response.

To explicate this second response further, consider that it doesn’t seem that Feser (2017, ch. 1) anywhere justifies a causal principle to the effect of the first reading. Instead, Feser defends a causal principle on which every change — that is, every case where there is indeed some prior state of potential that is caused to go from that state to a state of actuality — is caused by something already actual. (Feser does take an existential turn in his proof and applies the principle to the momentary existence of an object. But that is compatible with the second reading, since the ‘prior’ in the second reading is consistent with a causally or ontologically prior state rather than a temporal one.)

For another thing — and as I’ve explained at the beginning of Section 3 in my lengthier blog post —  the first reading 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 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.

I would thereby cast my diachronic identity worry not so much as a worry simpliciter but rather a dilemma one of whose disjuncts is a worry. Under the first reading, the above two problems arise. But under the second reading, it seems one cannot preserve diachronic identity.

Perhaps Feser would say that the first and second readings would represent a false dichotomy. But, first — and this might be due to my lack of imagination — it’s difficult for me to see any other plausible rendition or reading of what Feser’s causal principle amounts to.

[Part of what makes things a little difficult — for me, at least — is that Feser first defends the causal principle as applied to change, i.e., some transition from a prior state of potential being to a posterior state of actual being, and then later in his chapter takes an existential turn and applies the principle [or a similar principle, or maybe a different principle?] to the very existence of a substance at a given moment. Maybe he means for his principle to be a conjunctive one, like: in the case of change, the first reading is the causal principle; but in the case of existence-at-a-single moment, the second reading [or something very much like it] is the causal principle. In any case, you can see why, since publishing my IJPR article, I want to clarify the passage at hand. Alright, end of digression.]

And, second, even if the dichotomy is not properly exhaustive, it’s going to be difficult to find another alternative that doesn’t succumb to the problems afflicting each thus-far-demarcated disjunct. If you make the principle too change-centered [a la the second reading], you’ll make the Aristotelian proof incompatible with CT on account of entailing a [causally or ontologically or else temporally] prior state of potential being [prior to creation, that is]. If you make the principle too cross-world-difference-centered, you’ll fall into the same problems as earlier [to wit, (i) the fact that Feser doesn’t justify such cross-world-difference-centered principles in (2017, ch. 1), and (ii) such principles will undermine the proof’s inference to A’s being purely actual as opposed to necessarily-actually-existent-while-having-potency-for-accidental-change-or-accidental-cross-world-variance.] This is a very fine-line to walk along, and I’m skeptical it can be done.

Anyway, let’s continue with what Feser says:

“Here too Schmid trots out the standard analytic philosopher’s hoo-hah – semi-formal exposition, oddball thought experiments, etc. – developed in the service of a gigantic red herring.  The unwary reader thinks he’s being treated to a really rigorous critique of my arguments, when in fact he’s being led on a wild goose chase.”

As I hope the reader can see by now, there is no such wild goose chase. To be sure, there are some places in the IJPR article where greater clarity is needed, and as Feser is writing the passage above, he had just finished talking about one section wherein I do, indeed, need greater clarity. And I 100% take the blame for not adding such clarity into the IJPR article to begin with. But with the clarification in place, I see no goose chase.

Feser next says: “Now, Schmid does consider the possibility that I might reply by saying that the previous state of an object at t – 1 together with divine action is what accounts for its existence and state at t.  But he objects that “it’s unclear that there is any independent motivation for this move apart from a prior acceptance that things require sustaining causes of their existence.”

Well, of course that’s the motivation, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  Again, Schmid’s discussion here falsely supposes that divine conservation is intended to be an explanation of diachronic identity.  And in that light, one might think it a good objection to ask why, if factors intrinsic to a substance explain diachronic identity, we need to bring in divine conservation.

But again, divine conservation is not in the first place being brought in to explain diachronic identity.  That application is a figment of Schmid’s imagination. There are two issues here: what accounts for a thing’s identity over time, and what accounts for its persistence in being.  Divine conservation is intended to deal with the second issue; again, the first issue is dealt with instead in terms of factors like substantial form, designated matter, etc.  (True, God conserves those in being too, like he does everything else.  But the point is that divine conservation is not brought in to explain diachronic identity per se.)”

But I have already explained why Feser is mistaken here. My point was not that the thesis that God sustains things in being is (or was ever proposed as) an explanation of diachronic identity. It is clear from the paper that what I was arguing is that once one accepts an explanation of persistence by appeal to Feser’s-Aristotelian-proof-understanding-of theistic sustenance, one thereby threatens diachronic identity. I then point out that one way for the Aristotelian-proof-proponent to avoid this problem is to accept transtemporal explanatory relations [e.g., causal relations] among the successive phases of an object’s life, but that this furnishes the opponent of the Aristotelian proof with an undercutting defeater thereof.

The point, then, is that Feser is mistaken in saying that I treat [the Aristotelian-proof’s-conception-of] divine conservation as wielded to explain diachronic identity. Of course it’s not. My point, instead, is that the Aristotelian-proof’s-conception-of divine conservation is, of course, wielded to explain persistence; but that its explanation of persistence does collateral damage — in particular, it threatens diachronic identity, as explained above in connection with the second reading of the causal principle.

In Part 7, I will address everything Feser says in ‘An argument against EIT’.


An Argument Against EIT | Part 7

This post is Part 7, which deals with everything Feser says in his section ‘An argument against EIT’.

After spelling out the argument from the Principle of Proportionate Causality (PPC), Feser proceeds to address my rejoinders thereof.

Before getting to Feser’s rejoinders, I want to spell out what I have come to see as the biggest problem for the argument. I don’t think I raised this problem in the IJPR article, but I take it to be the most serious problem for the argument.

In particular, I think premise (3) is straightforwardly false, and I have indirectly explained why throughout this series. Premise (3) says: “Something has existential inertia if and only if it has of itself [i.e., intrinsically or internally[Fn]] a tendency to persist in existence once it exists.”

——————–

[Fn] It is clear from context, it seems to me, that this is what Feser means. Consider, for instance, that Feser seems to infer that ‘no material substance has a tendency of itself to persist in existence once it exists’ from the facts that ‘there are no other internal principles from which such a substance might derive such a tendency’ and ‘form and matter are internal principles from neither of which the substance can derive a tendency to persist’. This inference only seems to work if by ‘of itself’ Feser means ‘intrinsically or internally’.

——————–

The left-to-right side of the biconditional here says that an existential inertial tendency intrinsic to S is a necessary condition for S’s persisting inertially. But this is essentially equivalent to what we saw Feser claiming in Part 3. Therein we saw Feser say, “if EIT is false, then it is not something intrinsic to the water; and if there is no sustaining cause, then it will not be something extrinsic to it either.”

But we also saw that this was mistaken. It is false that if there is no sustaining cause at t [or from (t-1) to t, which I shall hereafter drop], then the explanation for an object’s existence at t will not be something extrinsic to the object at t. For there are whole swathes of explanations of an object’s persistence that do not adduce sustaining causes and yet adduce facts extrinsic to the object itself at t.

Consider, for instance, one of the explanations I proffered in section 3 of my lengthier blog post and which I’ll adumbrate here:

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 addd 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 lengthier 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 explanation adduces facts outside of or extrinsic to S at m. And the explanation 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. The present explanation does, indeed, tell us how S exists at m. [I discuss and defend EIT-friendly explanations of persistence that adduce facts extrinsic to S at m 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.]

Or consider inertialist-friendly explanations based on laws of nature, which adduce facts extrinsic to S at m. Or consider inertialist-friendly explanations based on transtemporal explanatory relations, which adduce facts extrinsic to S at m. Or consider an explanation by appeal to the de dicto necessity of the inertial thesis (à la propositional necessity accounts). And on and on. Feser’s claim is just false.

To drive home the point, consider again Explanans 1, Explanans 2, and Explanandum from Part 5:

In the case of the transtemporal understanding of the first IJPR account, we have:

Explanans 1: (i) there is an absence of sufficiently causally destructive factors operative on S from (m-1) to m [where (m-1) is the moment immediately prior to m], and (ii) the state and/or existence of temporal concrete objects (or, at least, those within EIT’s quantificational domain) at a given moment (m-1) at which they exist causally produce their existence at the next moment, m, provided that no sufficiently causally destructive factors are operative.

Explanandum: S’s existence at m

In the case of the no-change understanding of the first IJPR account, we have:

Explanans 2: (i) S existed immediately before m — that is, at (m-1) — (ii) if S existed immediately before m but fails to exist at m, then S’s cessation is (or involves, or entails) some kind of change, (iii) nothing causally induces S’s cessation at (m-1) or m — that is, nothing destroyed S from the immediately prior moment, (m-1), through m — and (iv) a change occurs only if some factor causally induces said change.

Explanandum: S’s existence at m

Now, neither Explanans 1 nor Explanans 2 cite facts that explain the Explanandum [S’s existence at m] that are intrinsic to that Explanandum [i.e., that are intrinsic to S at m or S’s existence at m]. And yet both of these scenarios are ones in which S inertially persists. And hence something can inertially persist [i.e., persist without continuously and concurrently operative sustenance from without] without this inertial persistence being derived from [or resultant from or explained by or constituted by] some intrinsic principle [or tendency or what have you]. (Instead, for each non-first moment m of S’s life, the explanation of S at m is extrinsic to S at m but not a concurrently operative extrinsic sustaining efficient cause.[Fn]) Hence, premise (3) is false.

——————–

[Fn] Alternatively, if one wants to say — at least with respect to the transtemporal understanding of the first IJPR account — that the explanation is intrinsic to S in the sense that the ‘principal explanatory mechanism’ — transtemporal causal relations that relate the successive phases of S’s life — is entirely contained within S’s life, that’s fine. Then premise (7) [“there are no other internal principles from which such a substance might derive such a tendency”] would be false, since there is something intrinsic to S’s life that accounts for S’s inertial persistence — to wit, transtemporal causal relations among the successive phases or states of S’s life.

——————–

Anyway, I take the above objection targeting premise (3) to be the most powerful. But, alas, I only came to appreciate its force after writing the IJPR article. Nevertheless, I’ll proceed with the criticism in mind (being careful, of course, not to fault Feser for not addressing it).

Feser: “Schmid raises four objections against this argument.  First, he suggests that the defender of EIT could simply reject hylemorphism on the grounds that, if my argument is correct, hylemorphism would conflict with EIT.  Which is true, but not terribly interesting if I have independent arguments for hylemorphism – as, of course, I do.  But it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect Schmid to present a general critique of those arguments in a journal article devoted to another topic, so for present purposes we can put this issue to one side.”

I don’t have much to say about this, apart from the fact that it is important to note that the argument is only an argument against EIT conditional on the truth of hylemoprhism, and that this need not threaten those inertialists who reject hylemorphism. (And they’ll have responses to what Feser has written elsewhere regarding hylemoprhism; and, of course, Feser will have further responses; and they’ll have further responses; and so on.)

Feser: “Second, Schmid notes that the Principle of Proportionate Causality (of which premise 1 above is one formulation) allows that there are several ways in which what is in an effect may preexist in its cause.  And he suggests that a tendency to persist in existence may preexist in a material thing’s metaphysical constituents in a more subtle way than I consider.  In particular, he suggests that even if neither prime matter nor substantial form by themselves have a tendency to persist in existence, maybe in combination they will produce something that does have such a tendency – just as two colorless chemical constituents might be combined in a way that generates something that is red.”

This is a good exposition of how I articulated the objection in my IJPR article; however, we should note that at times in my IJPR article, I spoke of ‘a tendency’ in a metaphysically heavyweight manner, and I have explained why I would modify this in Part 4.

Feser: “One problem with this is that, just left at that, it doesn’t really amount to much of an objection.  For in the case of the chemical constituents, there are chemical facts we can point to that explain exactly why they will together generate something red.  But Schmid does not tell us exactly what it is about prime matter and substantial form that would (or indeed could), when they are combined, generate a tendency to persist in existence.”

This is not how the dialectical context works, though. My objection is an undercutting defeater. I don’t need to positively justify or spell out exactly what it is about prime matter and substantial form that would, when combined, result in such a tendency. I need only point out that nothing Feser says in his argument gives any reason for ruling this out, and that ruling this out is what he would need to do for his argument to succeed. In other words, I need only point out that Feser has not given the hylemorphically-inclined existential ienrtialist who does think that the form and matter, when combined, result in such a tendency sufficient reason to abandon their position. And so it is irrelevant that I don’t specify exactly what it is about form and matter that, when combined, results in such a tendency.

Imagine we live in 1000 BC without any knowledge of the underlying chemistry of chemical species A, B, and C. I have gone blind recently, but you haven’t. Before going blind, I interacted a lot with A and B and know that they are colorless liquids. But neither you nor I have combined A and B together to see what results. Today, though, that’s gonna change. We combine A and B together to produce C. You can see that C is a vibrant red liquid. I, of course, cannot. You tell me it’s vibrant red. I scoff, responding with the following:

“But that’s not possible. The only things from which C could derive such a feature would be A and B, and neither of them have the feature to grant to C. They are both colorless. And so there is simply nowhere from which C could derive this vibrant color. You must therefore either be lying to me, or playing a trick on me, or your visual apparatus is malfunctioning.”

You respond:

“But your argument there assumes that there is nothing about A and B such that, when combined, they are able to manifest this further feature not found in either of them individually. Think of it like wine. Wine has a flavor none of its various constituents individually do.”

Imagine I respond:

“That doesn’t really amount to much of an objection! In the case of the wine, there are facts we can point to that explain exactly why they will together generate something with a distinctively wine-like flavor. But you do not tell us exactly what it is about A and B that would (or indeed could), when they are combined, generate this vibrant red color.”

This response is confused. It is irrelevant whether you can point to facts about A and B that illuminate why they generate redness when combined. For I was the one offering a positive argument that A and B cannot generate redness. And my argument assumed that there couldn’t be anything about A and B that can combinedly manifest some feature not individually found in either. You then pointed out that my argument needs to assume this in order to succeed, but that absolutely no reason was provided for such an assumption. And you pointed to a case wherein precisely this ‘manifesting of a feature not individually found in any of the constituents’ occurs in order to bolster the in principle legitimacy of this kind of phenomenon. My argument does nothing to rule this out in the case of A, B, and C, and yet ruling this out is precisely what needs to be done for my argument to work. So, my argument fails. And for the same reason, Feser’s argument fails. [The case of A, B, and C is structurally identical to the dialectic with Feser’s PPC argument.]

Feser: “Another problem is that even if substantial form and prime matter would together yield something with existential inertia, that would just leave us with another version of the circularity problem discussed above.  Existential inertia, as a power or property of the whole substance, would depend for its existence at any moment on the parts of the substance (prime matter and substantial form) being combined; and the parts of the substance being combined at any moment would depend on its power or property of existential inertia.  (As I have said before, there really is no way around this sort of problem for anything that is composed of parts.  Only an absolutely simple or non-composite thing can have existential inertia.)”

But I have already shown in Part 5 why this objection fails, and so it’s clearly false that there is no way around this problem.

Feser: “Now, toward the end of his paper, Schmid does say something that might seem to provide a solution to this circularity problem.  He says that it is the parts of a substance at time t – 1 that explain the whole’s existence at t.  But there would be vicious circularity only if it were the parts at time t that were claimed to explain the whole’s existence at t.

But this simply ignores the sub-argument of the Aristotelian proof, referred to above, which claims that even considered at time t, the parts of the water (or of any other physical substance) considered just qua parts of the kind they are (particles, prime matter and substantial form, essence and existence, or whatever) are merely potentially water, so that some additional factor active at t must be brought in to account for why they are actualized as water at t.  What happened at an earlier time t – 1 is not sufficient to account for that.  But if the additional factor is some other part of the water itself, then we will be back with the circularity problem.”

But I have already addressed Feser’s argument here in my lengthier blog post. For one thing, I’ve already explained why the explanatory facts adduced in each of Explanans 1 and Explanans 2 do suffice to explain Explanandum, i.e., S’s existence at m. And so Feser’s claim that past things don’t suffice is false. But for those who haven’t read my lengthier blog post, I do want to address exactly what Feser says in his Aristotelian proof chapter by way of justifying the explanatory insufficiency of past things.

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, once again check out my discussion of each of Explanans 1 and Explanans 2 from Part 5, since therein I explain how the explanatory facts cited are sufficient. [Strictly speaking, though, remember that all I need to do is point out that nothing Feser says on behalf of premise (7) gives those who do think past things sufficiently explain the present existence of S sufficient reason to abandon their position.]

Feser: “Schmid’s third objection to my argument is directed at step 7.  He says that, for all I have shown, existential inertia itself might be a further internal principle of a substance.  Hence, he claims, the premise begs the question.

To see the problem with this objection, consider an EIT-rejecting reductive naturalist who argues as follows:

The physical world consists of nothing more than fermions and bosons and the laws that govern them.  But there is nothing in the nature of fermions and bosons or the laws that govern them that entails that they have existential inertia.  Hence, there is no such feature in the physical world.

Whatever you think of such an argument, would it beg the question?  Not if the speaker has independent grounds for being a reductive naturalist.  Hence, in response to such a reductive naturalist, a defender of EIT would either have to give some argument against reductive naturalism, or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises.  It would not be enough merely to accuse the speaker of begging the question.  But by the same token, my argument does not beg the question if I have independent grounds for being a hylemorphist, which I do.  Hence, even if Schmid had other good reasons to reject the argument, accusing step 7 of begging the question is not a good one.”

Suppose I’m a theist, and suppose I argue as follows:

  1. God exists.
  2. Therefore, God exists.

Now suppose you’re an atheist and you charge me of question-begging. In Feserian fashion, suppose I respond:

“Whatever you think of such an argument, would it beg the question? Not if I have independent grounds for being a theist. Hence, in response to such an argument, an atheist would either have to give some argument against theism, or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. It would not be enough merely to accuse me of begging the question.”

This response is confused. And yet it is precisely the response Feser has given to my charge of question-begging. It is irrelevant whether the proponent of the argument has independent reasons for accepting one of the premises. What matters, instead, is whether the argument — its premise(s) and that which is said on their behalf — gives those who don’t already accept it sufficient reason to abandon their position. And the job of the detractor of the argument is not to give some argument against the premise, i.e., some argument positively justifying its denial. Feser’s response, then, fails.

Feser: “Schmid’s fourth objection to my argument claims that if it succeeded, it would take down EET as well as EIT.  For why would a material substance’s substantial form and prime matter give it a tendency to expire any more than they give it a tendency to persist?  But Schmid’s objection misunderstands the position of those who reject EIT and endorse EET.  Their claim is not that material substances have an intrinsic tendency to go out of existence.  It’s rather merely that they lack any intrinsic tendency to continue in existence. 

Schmid considers this response, and says in reply that it presupposes that the falsity of EIT gives us reason to believe EET, which, he claims, it does not.  But I have already explained above why he is wrong about that.  The falsity of EIT does in fact give us reason to endorse EET.”

And I have already explained in Part 3 why Feser is wrong here. So I won’t belabor the point here.

Feser: “Schmid also suggests that if I agree that things do not have a positive intrinsic tendency to go out of existence, then that would be enough to vindicate EIT.  But that doesn’t follow at all. Again, the lack of a tendency to persist in existence is by itself sufficient to undermine EIT.”

What? This is NOT what I suggest. I am genuinely baffled (but not, at this point, surprised) at this misrepresentation. (I don’t think it’s intentional misrepresentation. But it’s misrepresentation nonetheless.) Let’s see what I actually write at this stage of the paper:

Notice what I actually claim: “So if Feser claims EET is vindicated by the absence of a tendency to persist, it will follow that EIT is equally vindicated by the parallel argument that things have no tendency to expire.”

Now compare that sentence with what Feser says I claim: “if [Feser] agree[s] that things do not have a positive intrinsic tendency to go out of existence, then that would be enough to vindicate EIT.”

These are completely different claims, and indeed I never have (and don’t) endorse the conditional Feser attributes to me. In fact, I explicitly deny the conditional Feser attributes to me in the paper. In particular, one of my criticisms of Beaudoin’s account of EIT in the paper was precisely that the mere absence of a tendency to expire is insufficient for EIT. That is an explicit denial of what Feser attributes to me. See, for instance:

So, Feser has blatantly misrepresented me yet again. At this point, though, I’m not surprised.

Finally, I will note, in connection with Feser’s claim that ‘the lack of a tendency to persist in existence is by itself sufficient to undermine EIT’, that this is false — I have explained many different accounts of inertial persistence in this series that don’t ontologically commit to some (intrinsic) tendency to persist but are still inertialist-friendly. So after misrepresenting me, Feser made a false claim.

Feser: “(Compare: If there is nothing intrinsic to me that allows me to see as far as a mile, then I am simply not going to see as far as a mile, unless some additional factor – such as a telescope – is brought into the picture.  The mere absence of some factor that prevents me from seeing that far – such as a barrier – is not going to suffice for me to see that far.  Similarly, the mere absence of a positively self-destructive tendency is not going to suffice to ensure that I continue in existence.”

I had already made the exact same response to Beaudoin. And yet Feser presents this as if it is a response to what I said. [Indeed, it is a response to the claim Feser attributed to me, but ironically I never made that claim and, indeed, explicitly denied that claim in my article.]

Feser: “If there is nothing intrinsic to me that positively ensures that I do continue in existence, then I am simply not going to continue in existence, unless some additional factor – an external sustaining cause – is brought into the picture.)”

I have already explained why this is false. There are whole swathes of extrinsic, inertialist-friendly explanations of persistence.

Feser: “Yet as we have now seen in two detailed posts, those arguments are seriously problematic – being sometimes unclear in their formulation, begging the question, and, in some cases, beholden to straw men and red herrings.  But as I have said, Schmid is an intelligent fellow and he certainly tries to engage his opponents’ arguments in a serious and civil way, and for that I thank him.”

As we’ve seen in my first post and in my detailed series of responses to Feser, my arguments are not problematic. Almost none of Feser’s responses succeeded, and indeed they were rife with misunderstandings of the dialectical context, misrepresentations, and missed points. But, of course, Feser is an intelligent man and he certainly tried to engage my arguments in a serious and civil way, and for that I thank him.


Author: Joe

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