Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Scholastic Principle of Sufficient Reason Is Rubbish


I am very confident that the oft toted principle of sufficient reason that theists tend to make, is self refuting: trying to apply it will necessarily lead to either an infinite regress of contingent explanations, or a brute fact, which is to say the PSR can't meet its own standard, not even when god is applied. (See here and here and here.)

Many Catholic theists themselves have recognized this and that's why they have to use a watered down version of the PSR to try and save them from this self refutation. But they technically can't. There's no way out of the problem. I will explain why by demonstrating this problem with a crazy Catholic apologist I sparred heavily with a few months ago over on the Strange Notions website.

 This is taken from a comment of a Catholic apologist quoting Edward Feser.

Here is the explanation Feser gives for his definition via Peter Weigel.

If your god can't meet the standards of the PSR as stated by Feser himself or that I've stated, you have no claim to say god is necessary, metaphysically or otherwise concrete extant objects and their arrangements... The demands of his model are thus notably different in scope from what in Leibniz is the principle of sufficient reason, in which the phenomena to be explained include propositions. As Leibniz presents the principle, every fact and every true proposition -- at least every contingent proposition -- must have an explanation. What is sufficient reason furthermore assures the truth of what it explains... Hence Leibniz’s rendition has a logical cast to it, whereas Aquinas is not fishing for reasons for every logically contingent proposition. For Aquinas, to say X explains or accounts for Y is not to say it necessary [sic] entails it (when Aquinas is talking about real-world causation). Aquinas thus in his model cautiously keeps in view the explanation of the existence of objects, not reasons for literally everything. Aquinas thinks truth and falsity always accrue to individual beliefs in minds. Propositions for him are thus beings of reason and do not exist as disembodied abstracta, so they are not things out there to be explained in the manner real beings are. (Weigel 2008, pp. 128-29)

Feser goes on to explain:

This point is crucial for understanding why some objections to the rationalist construal of PSR do not apply to PSR as understood by Scholastic writers. For example, one well-known objection to PSR asks us to consider the proposition comprising the conjunction of all true contingent propositions. Since each of its component conjuncts is contingent, this big proposition is contingent. In that case, the explanation of this big proposition cannot be a necessary proposition, for whatever is entailed by a necessary proposition is itself necessary. But neither can its explanation be a contingent proposition. For if it were, then that contingent proposition would itself be one conjunct among others in the big conjunction of contingent propositions. That would mean that the big conjunctive proposition explains itself. But the PSR tells us that no contingent proposition can explain itself. So, the big conjunctive proposition cannot have an explanation. But in that case there is something without an explanation, and PSR is false. (Cf. Ross 1969, pp. 295-304; Rowe 1997; Rowe 1998; Van Inwagen 1983, pp. 202-4; and the critical discussions in Gerson 1987 and Pruss 2009, pp. 50-58) From a Scholastic point of view this sort of argument is a non-starter, since on the Scholastic understanding of PSR, propositions are not among the things requiring explanation in the first place, and explanation does not require logical entailment.- Feser SCHOLASTIC METAPHYSICS. [Emphasis in original]

Now, I'm quoting him quoting Edward Feser, so I cannot guarantee accuracy of Feser's words. But I will take them as they are and assume they are accurately quoting Feser. Here's my response:

If your god can't meet the standards of the PSR, as stated by Feser himself, or that I've stated, you have no claim to say god is necessary—metaphysically or otherwise. 

You see, there are at least two versions of the PSR: the Liebnizian (or rationalist) version, and the Scholastic version. The Liebnizian version is the version we're all familiar with. It says everything has an explanation, either in the necessity of its own nature, or in something else. In other words, a thing's existence is either necessary or contingent. This includes objects and propositions. But since this leads to an infinite regress of contingent explanations, which will have no necessary reason to exist, the PSR is false.

So enter the Scholastic version, which claims to solve this problem. The only thing is it doesn't. It can't. The way it gets out of the fatal dilemma is by claiming "propositions are not among the things requiring explanation in the first place, and explanation does not require logical entailment." But what makes god unable to satisfy the PSR is not a proposition per se, but an ontological claim: that a god eternally exists with a logically unnecessary will to create this specific universe and not any other, and that will is identical to its nature. That's not a proposition by most definitions of the term, such as Google's: a statement or assertion that expresses a judgment or opinion. It is an ontological claim.

I think what the theist is trying to say here is that god's 'decision' to want to make this particular universe is based on an opinion by god, and this opinion is not among the things requiring explanation in the first place. That's the most charitable reading of Feser I can make. But god's will is his nature; they are identical, and hence the Scholastic here is saying god's nature (and therefore ontology) "is not among the things requiring explanation in the first place." How convenient! It's the ultimate special pleading—you just have to assert that god's eternal will doesn't need an explanation and say that it is neither logically necessary or contingent, but that since it's eternal and could not have been otherwise, it's metaphysically necessary.

This is the biggest cop out and I suspect that the scholastics who are the most critically thinking, know this deep down inside. Once more, many theists make no distinction when asserting the PSR. They will make what sounds like the Liebnizian PSR, and then when shown it's self refuting, quietly switch to the Scholastic version while pretending they were making the Scholastic version all along. Regardless, they cannot technically avoid the problem, and some Thomists will make contradictory claims surrounding this.

For example, they will say that there is a reason why god wills this specific universe, even though it is not logically necessary god do so, but the reason why is an epistemic brute fact, not an ontological brute fact.

I made no confusion of different versions of brute facts. Epistemic brute facts are not relevant in the argument against why god cannot satisfy the PSR. I fully grant epistemic brute facts. The question is not what are the reasons why an eternal god would exist with a logically unnecessary will, which is also the same thing as his essence, it's that any reason no matter what it is, can only be either contingent or necessary, and such a reason to explain god must be contingent, since a logically necessary reason isn't an option. The watered down Scholastic PSR affirms this but simply just denies this is important by claiming it doesn't need an explanation. Meanwhile, they say to the atheist that an infinite past of contingent events explaining the present state of the universe is not allowed.

Sheer special pleading.

The atheist can apply the same logic to the universe. And any special pleading the theist can make here can be made by the atheist. The atheist can say that the universe is eternal and therefore "suppositionally necessary" since its eternality entails it could not have existed any other way, or not at all. All the Thomist's arguments denying this will eventually make them face to face with their special pleading.

If the Scholastic PSR is saying that there are not "reasons for literally everything," this is exactly the door through which the Thomists squeezes his logically unnecessary (and therefore metaphysically unnecessary) god in through and hopes the atheist doesn't notice. If the Aquinas model can't in principle supply a reason why a god with a specific eternal will that is not necessary somehow exists, he has absolutely no business asserting his god is necessary, nor that the atheist's unnecessary universe is a flaw in his naturalistic worldview. Special pleading is the Thomist's only hope.


And now for some comedy:

Have you heard the joke about the Thomist who asserts god is a necessary being because of the PSR, but then when pressed he admits that his version of the PSR doesn't require everything have a reason?


It's hilarious.

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