Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Answers for im-skeptical and Hugo

In response to I'm-Skeptical's blog post, I want to take a moment to apologize to both Hugo and im-skeptical in my discussions with them on cosmological arguments, and especially on the concept of essentially-ordered series. I see that my previous explanations of them could be capable of causing confusion. I also want to apologize for deleting all of Hugos comments a long time ago (although the primary reason for that was not anger so much as I just wanted the blog for notes and outlines and not any actual opinions; since rectified by keeping my outlines in my private Google drive instead). And I want to apologize for calling im-skeptical “stupid” and for psychologizing about him (“He just believes that because he’s...etc”). I would like to clear the air and complete this discussion to all of our satisfaction.

Essentially-Ordered Series Explained

First, I’ll start with an explanation of the difference between accidentally-ordered and essentially-ordered series. There is a lot of confusion layered on here even though the concepts are really quite simple. The analogies given to explain the difference are quite well-known. In an accidentally-ordered series, each element causes the next element in the chain, and the common analogy used is that of a man who has a son, who grows up, has his own son, and so on. Each man in the chain (along with a woman, obviously) is the cause of the next man in the chain. In an essentially-ordered series, by contrast, the effect is just being “passed along.” A common example is a hand moving a stick moving a rock. The stick isn’t doing the work of moving the rock; the hand is, and the stick is just passing the motion from the hand to the rock. The point being that in the first case, you cannot reason from the existence of a man to the existence of a first man: the chain of men may have been happening for eternity. But in the second case, you can reason from the motion of the rock to the existence of a hand because we know that the stick doesn’t have any power of motion on its own; if it’s to push something, like a stone, it must be because something is pushing it. One of the core points here is that in an essentially-ordered series, the middle element (or elements) are acting as sort of "instruments." They derive their power to cause a certain effect, and since that power is derivative, there must be something it derives from. The stick derives its power to push the stone from the hand. The power lines derive their power to light the lamp from the power plant. The gears derive their power to turn the clock hands from the mainspring.

But really, even this may be too complicated for what is really a simple concept. As Caleb Cohoe argues (1), the concept of an essentially-ordered series can be described like this:

“For any given effect, insofar as it is an effect, there must be a cause capable of producing it”

So really all we’re doing with essentially-ordered series is simply reasoning from an observed effect to an unseen but inferred cause. So for example we can observe the clock hands on Big Ben and infer that there must be a motor or some kind of power source inside the clock. Why? Because we know that clock hands cannot move themselves. We could take any other example of inferring a cause from an effect. The astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky, in 1933, observed the motions of galaxies in the Coma Cluster were moving too fast based on what could be seen and inferred that the presence of “dark matter.” His inference is similar to what we would make in the case of Big Ben and to the case in cosmological arguments. Finally, to take an analogy that was used by Scholastic thinkers, a stone being pushed (as opposed to rolling down a hill) is an observed effect, and from it we can infer that there must be something doing the pushing, because we know that stones cannot push themselves or otherwise have the power of locomotion.

Another way of understanding essentially-ordered series is that they are a version of the homunculus fallacy. This is the fallacy in using the explanandum (the thing demanding an explanation) as the explanation. The classic example of the homunculus fallacy involves explaining vision in humans as a result of a “little man” (i.e. a subsystem) inside our brains that looks at the image coming in through our eyes. The fallacy here is that we’ve explained vision by referencing something with vision, and so haven’t explained vision at all. We’ve used the explanandum (vision) as the explanation for vision, and so we are just going around in a circle. Now notice that it may actually be true that a “little man” or subsystem may be in our brains looking at a screen, but in that case we can lump it in with our primary vision and rather than explain this or that particular vision system we explain “things with vision” in general. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins makes use of this very principle in his objection to theism in his book The God Delusion. He responds to the argument for theism that the complexity of the universe demands a designer by arguing that the designer, in being capable of creating the complexity in the universe, would be even more complex than the universe itself and would require an even greater designer, and so on ad infinitum. Thus the complexity argument for theism is not a good argument since it just goes around in circles, explaining complexity with more complexity.

To see how the concept of essentially-ordered series are a flavor of the homunculus argument, let’s look at the original analogy of a hand pushing a stick pushing a stone. In reasoning from stone to hand, what we are doing is observing that the stone does not have its own power of locomotion and so we need to explain it. However, our explanation cannot be the explanandum. That is, we are trying to explain the movement of things that cannot move themselves. So we need to turn to something that is not a thing that cannot move itself. I.e., something that can move itself.

Now, hopefully this is a good description that will not cause too much confusion. Again, the core point of essentially-ordered series is simply that of an inferred cause from an observed effect. Anything else, such as whether such a series can be infinitely long, or whether such a series is simultaneous, is secondary and can be discarded without affecting the point.

I'm-Skeptical's Objections

Now let’s look at im-skeptical’s objections. First, he begins with a description of what he takes the two types of series to be, based on what he’s read me say about them. These will not be exact quotes but will be paraphrases, and I invite him to correct me if I got them wrong:

Essentially-ordered series are concurrent, and accidentally-ordered series are sequential

Admittedly, some explanations of it including my own can give this impression, but this isn’t quite right. Even if I’ve used the word “concurrent” before, I’ve seen how much confusion this can create and I’ve since discarded it. As you can see above, the key point really has nothing to do with how concurrent a cause and an effect are. The key point, to reiterate, is simply that in an essentially-ordered series a cause can be inferred from an observed effect.

Causes are a complex interacting web, and there is not any single “first” cause in an essentially-ordered series, but rather a multitude of causes

This is absolutely true, and Scholastic thinkers like Thomas Aquinas would not have disagreed with this. Nor is this built into the concept of an essentially ordered series. While we can infer a hand from observing a pushed stone, this is not to say that that is the end of our explanation nor that there isn’t some other explanation of the hand’s motion as well, and in fact there is: the hand pushed by muscles, the muscles triggered by motor neurons, and so forth. The point is simply that from a pushed stone we can infer at least something else in addition to the stone, whether that additional thing is simple, complex, or multiple.

There is no such thing as concurrent causation; in examples of essentially-ordered series, such as a power plant powering a lamp, if the power plant disappeared the lamp would stay lit for a time

This is also absolutely true, and it is unfortunate that I’ve given the impression that the entire series must be simultaneous. As Edward Feser illustrates2, consider the hand pushing a stick through a time portal (as seen in science fiction) and out the other side of the portal 10,000 years in the future, where the stick pushes a rock. In this case there is a time lag of 10,000 years between the motion of the hand and the pushing of the stone. Nonetheless, the motion of the stone still points to the existence of a cause capable of producing it, since, again, we know that stones cannot push themselves. Even if an effect lingers for a time after its cause has disappeared, we can still infer the cause from the effect. Would we, for example, be justified in rejecting the hypothesis of a burglar from the observance of a broken window and a missing TV set just because the burglar is long gone? Clearly not. We observed an effect, and even if the cause is no longer around we can still infer that it exists or once existed.

Essentially-ordered series have been disproved by modern science

If you’ve been paying attention, there isn’t anything in modern science that has refuted these concepts of inferring a cause from an effect, or that explanations cannot be circular.

Quantum events are uncaused and spontaneous

This objection illustrates a more fundamental point about two views of causation. A modern popular view of causation is Humean: a cause is an event, and an effect is an event that follows the cause. In contrast, the Aristotelian view of causation is that causes are things, not events, and that causes are simultaneous with their effects. Let’s look at an example. A cue ball striking a billiard ball causing it to move quickly away. On the Humean view, this consists of two events: the event of the cue ball striking the billiard, and the event of the billiard ball moving away from the cue ball. On the Aristotelian view this situation consists of the cue ball striking the billiard ball and the billiard ball being struck by the cue ball. The cause is the cue ball pushing into the billiard and the effect is the billiard being pushed by the cue. The cause and effect are simultaneous on this view, and instead of two events are rather two distinct descriptions of a single event. On the Aristotelian view, it wouldn’t make sense for the cause to be prior to, and therefore separate from, the effect, as a cause is only a cause insofar as it is having some effect. If it isn’t having an effect, then it just isn’t a cause by definition.

Now, in the case of beta decay, on the Humean view we may very well say that there is no cause because there is no preceding event. However, on the Aristotelian view, there is a cause: a preceding object. Namely, the nucleus of the atom that has an unequal number of protons and neutrons. It is the cause of the decay. If there were no unequal number of protons and neutrons, there would be no decay.

Note that modern science has not refuted Aristotelian causation in favor of Humean; it simply isn't asking questions like that. The atom decays and science explains it. Is this a case of being caused by an unequal nucleus, or an example of something uncaused because it has no prior event? We step beyond science and into more abstract and general reasoning to explore this issue. In fact, there has been somewhat of a move away from Humean causation and back to Aristotelian views, and from people fully versed in modern science and (to sweeten the well) atheists, such as Stephen Mumford in his book Getting Causes from Powers.

Hugo’s Objections

Hugo’s main objection not already covered by im-skeptical above is this:
The existence of everything can be traced to the stars, and ultimately the universe itself, and we can’t really know anything about the cause of the universe’s existence or even if it needs one
Now, there are a few things to address here, so it will take some teasing apart.

First, to properly understand the argument for an unmoved mover, we need to stick with the terminology introduced by them. The argument is that all potencies being actualized must ultimately trace to something that is already actual, without any potencies. This again is due to the fact that explanations cannot be circular. So to take Hugo’s objection, that everything can be traced to stars, the universe, etc, we need to first translate it to the language of act and potency. The question central to the unmoved mover argument is this: what is most fundamental? Something that is in act, or something that is in potency? Something in act is just something that is actual, or real/existent. Something that is in potency is something that is potentially existent, but not. So the question Hugo should be asking is not "whether everything can be traced to stars, the universe" but rather "can actualized potencies be traced to something in act, or something in potency?" The answer I'll leave aside for now, as it's not relevant to my point, which is only this: by tracing the existence of earth to stars, and stars to the universe, and universe perhaps to a quantum event, one isn't engaging with the unmoved mover argument as written. All these things need to be translated into either act or potency (or act and potency), if one wishes to engage with them.

In other words, let's take the concept from above, that explanations cannot be circular. The explanation for "actualized potencies" can only be something that is not that. In other words, it can only be something that is not an actualized potency, or in other words something that is already actual.

Another problem with Hugo's objection is that Aquinas is in no way arguing for the cause of the universe. He is simply arguing that any given actualized potency must be traced to something that is already actual. Not that the universe as a whole needs a cause. You can pick any actualized potency you like to follow along with Aquinas. I often take the example of a tree growing. It's a potency actualized by the Sun, oxygen, rain water, and so on. But each of these things are also actualized potencies. For example, the Sun's power to generate light and heat is a potency actualized by gravity pulling the Sun in on itself. But gravity is also an actualized potency: mass causes gravity. And mass is actualized by the Higgs particle. Like the homunculus fallacy, in order to explain actualized potencies we need to appeal to something that is not an actualized potency, not in the past (or not only in the past), but now, in the present, at the fundamental aspect of reality.

Hopefully, this fully apologizes to Hugo and im-skeptical, answers what an essentially ordered series is, and successfully answers both their objections.

1. Cohoe, Caleb, There Must Be First: Why Thomas Aquinas Rejects Infinite, Essentially Ordered, Causal Series (British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 2013)



66 comments:

  1. Thank you for the kind words Martin! An apology was neither necessary nor expected, but I appreciate the sentiment.

    Unfortunately, the article presented here does not add much to the conversation, even if it does correct some details of the arguments, and I will thus simply agree to disagree at this point. Quickly:

    To use the correct language, the problem is simply that I see everything around us, in our reality/existence, as a form of what Aquinas would call 'actualized potential'. These things we study are already actual, but were not before, and always trace back to something else that was also actual, but not before. Appealing to something rather different, something that exists (is actual) but did not come to exist because of another existing thing (did not have potentials to actualized) is what we disagree on. I don't think such a thing necessarily exist. It could, or not, as we have no way to know whether the chain breaks down. Analogies fail us because they always use things that are actualized potentials.

    Sorry that may not be super clear; spent quite a few minutes reading this and noting downs sentences that show where we disagree, but I have to run to board a flight, so I may not have been the most clear. Anyway, the point is that we just disagree on why there must be something actual that powers all the actual things, without being itself actualized potentials.

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  2. Martin,

    I am happy to hear that we may be able to discuss our ideas and differences even with the understanding that we probably won't agree on many things.

    In my article explaining my understanding of essentially ordered series, I spoke of a "sustaining cause", which I still think is consistent with the Thomistic view. It is regarded as the source or the primary motivating force for the effect, and may be passed or transmitted through some intermediary elements. And I think it's fair to say that the idea of simultaneity is an important part of the basic concept. That is what we hear Thomists talking about, and it's the basis for many complaints about the ignorance of those who don't understand.

    In this article, Richard Dawkins is castigated for thinking that the First Way is about some kind of time-sequential causality:
    Aquinas’ analysis in the First Way, in addition to analysing local motion (movement from one place/location to another) refers to simultaneous, instrumental change. He talks of a present regress of causes, going downwards, through ever deeper layers of reality – not a succession of discrete events, going backwards in time. ... All of this occurs in the present, simultaneously, with each member necessarily dependant on others for its causal power.

    Even Feser allows for non-simultaneous causation only in a very limited sense:
    But it is arguably possible at least in theory for there to be a per se causal series in which some of the members were not simultaneous. Suppose a “time gate” of the sort described in Robert Heinlein’s story “By His Bootstraps” were possible. Suppose further that here in 2010 you take a stick and put it halfway through the time gate, while the other half comes out in 3010 and pushes a stone. The motion of the stone and the motion of the hand are not simultaneous – they are separated by 1000 years – but we still have a causal series ordered per se insofar as the former motion depends essentially on the latter motion.
    So according to him, without any "time gate", it would be simultaneous. And there is no such thing in our world.

    But if you allow any time delay like the one I described with electric current flowing through a wire, then you have to admit that causality (of that type, at least) really entails a temporal sequence of events, even if it appears to be simultaneous.

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  3. Hi Hugo, and thanks for your response!

    It's fine to disagree, however I do think it's somewhat unsatisfying to just disagree without reasonable justification. I think it's more fun, and intellectually stimulating, to provide equal pushback. Your objection is:

    "we have no way to know whether the chain breaks down"

    Well, that's precisely what the argument above is all about! A chain of instrumental causes, that is, causes that only operate because of something else, can only terminate in something that is not instrumental.

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  4. i'm-skeptical,

    Thanks for your comment!

    As I explained above, whether a series is simultaneous or not is not important, and can be dropped. When reasoning from effect to cause, it doesn't matter if the cause happened a while ago and is no longer present, as the burglar example shows. What is important is avoiding explanatory circularity, as I explained. Dawkins implicitly appeals to the exact same principle Aquinas is appealing to, that one cannot use the explanandum as the explanation.

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  5. Hi Martin,

    Right, agreed, it's more interesting to be clear as to what we disagree on. I realized I should have mentioned why differently. Answering that comment should help:

    "A chain of instrumental causes, that is, causes that only operate because of something else, can only terminate in something that is not instrumental."

    What we disagree on is whether existence itself is part of a chain labeled as 'instrumental'. Stating that we see change, that we see potentials being actualized, works for analogies, but only for analogies. Each item used in these analogies is something that was actualized by something else. Every single thing around us is like that. So we don't know whether the chain of existence, of all of existence, requires something non instrumental. Maybe it does, maybe not.

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  6. Hugo,

    >whether existence itself is part of a chain labeled as 'instrumental'.

    Now, notice that Aquinas is not saying that existence itself is part of an essentially-ordered chain. It can't be. Existence is not an essentially-ordered chain, nor is it an accidentally-ordered chain. Only causes are chains, not existence. So for example the accidentally-ordered chain of past events in the universe, leading possibly backward to infinity. Or the essentially-ordered chain of clock gears, all turned by the motor.

    We could have a chain of actualized potencies that is an accidentally ordered series: the Earth actualized by congealing matter and gravity, matter and gravity was actualized by stars, stars were actualized by the Big Bang, or whatever. This chain of actualized potencies stretches back in time to who knows...? Maybe infinity. But what Aquinas is interested in are sustaining actualizations. The potential of the Sun to shine light is actualized by the gravity of the Sun pulling it in on itself, and the gravity is in turn actualized by the mass of the Sun's matter, which is in turn actualized by Higgs boson. You see the difference? In the first case we are going backwards in time to earlier events, and in the second case we are going down into more fundamental levels. You're correct, along with Aquinas, that the first type of series, stretching back in time, could be infinite. But Aquinas is interested in the second type, stretching down to the most fundamental thing that exists. Here's another way to put it: whatever that thing is, it's not something that could be composed of parts, because parts are more fundamental than wholes. That's how Aquinas is reasoning, which also in line with Neoplatonism.

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  7. whether a series is simultaneous or not is not important, and can be dropped

    - OK. Let's just say that it is non-temporal, then. Feser emphasizes the "instrumental" aspect of the cause. Maybe that's how we should refer to it. But then, we really need a precise definition of 'instrumental', if we really want to understand what he means. I didn't see any such definition (without performing a search for it), but perhaps you know where he has given his definition, because it seems to be crucial to the concept.

    As far as I can tell, the distinction between essential and accidental seems to be the directness of the cause. We already know from science that all causes are temporally sequential, and that implies that no effect is simultaneous with its causes. But if you isolate a set of causal events to a short series that has the appearance being instantaneous, you might say that the events at the beginning of that series are instrumental in bringing about the cause. The arbitrarily selected series is much more direct than some other series of events that spans a longer period of rime and ripples through a larger set of causal elements. So this appears to be what Feser is talking about.

    But I must emphasize that this selection of causal events id arbitrary. We can say that that hand pushes the stick, which pushes the rock is an example of such causation, but there are causal factors that move the hand. Are they part of the essentially ordered series? Where do you draw the line between what is essential and what is accidental?


    So really all we’re doing with essentially-ordered series is simply reasoning from an observed effect to an unseen but inferred cause.

    - To continue with the same line of discussion, I should point out that ALL effects we can see have causes. We can always infer some cause, and that is true whether the causal series id essentially ordered, or accidentally ordered. So this doesn't seem to be an important consideration. It only blurs the distinction. And I still maintain that there is no real distinction. It is purely an illusion.

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  8. Hi Martin,

    You said:
    "This chain of actualized potencies stretches back in time to who knows...? Maybe infinity. But what Aquinas is interested in are sustaining actualizations. The potential of the Sun [...] You see the difference?"

    Hum, no I don't see it... the Sun is not sustaining anything as it's still just temporal cause and effect, a chain of actualized potencies. If the Sun were to suddenly disappear, we know exactly what would happen. E.g.: The photons in transit would still reach us for another 8-min or so, and Earth would still feel its gravity for that same duration. Newton was wrongom that basically.

    The 'possible' differences were addressed above I think, and found to not be real differences:
    1) Concurrence, but you said it's not the case and it's not what we see in reality as IS mentioned. The usage of sutaining "now" hints at that problem I think.
    2) Existence itself. But you said "Aquinas is not saying that existence itself is part of an essentially-ordered chain. It can't be. Existence is not an essentially-ordered chain, nor is it an accidentally-ordered chain. Only causes are chains, not existence."

    So it seems now that we have further narrowed the issue to "sustaining". But that sounds a lot like concurent, or simultaneous, which we know doesn't fit our real world. So we're back to a non-simultaneous chain of cause-effect which could be infinite, as we agreed. I thus continue to not conclude anything, in the sense that there could be some end to the chain, or not.

    As I said, our opinion diverges here, but I think we understand each other as to why we see, or not, different types of causation or actualization of potentials or sustaining basic parts.

    Cheers

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  9. P.S. pardon typos, saw a few after posting. Was writing that in a moving car... Finally reached Kolkata!

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  10. i'm-skeptical,

    >if you isolate a set of causal events to a short series that has the appearance being instantaneous, you might say that the events at the beginning of that series are instrumental in bringing about the cause.

    I've explained what is meant by essentially-ordered series above.

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  11. Hugo,

    > If the Sun were to suddenly disappear, we know exactly what would happen. E.g.: The photons in transit would still reach us for another 8-min

    This is besides the point. Whether there is or isn't a lag is not important to the point being made, which is that we are reasoning down to more fundamental levels of reality. We reason from sunlight, to gravity, to mass, to Higgs.

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  12. Hi Martin,

    Right, we are reasoning down to more fundamental levels of reality. We reason from sunlight, to gravity, to mass, to Higgs, to... we don't know.

    But you think it must end; I disagree.

    I don't see why it is necessarily ending, or not. The arguments for why it must end are only analogies, which refer to things that are in that chain in order to argue that there must be something different than those things in the chain.

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  13. i.e. is there anything else than analogies? That would be interesting. If not, we have to agree to disagree as there is no logical truth here.

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  14. I've explained what is meant by essentially-ordered series above.

    - Yes, I heard what you said : In an accidentally-ordered series, each element causes the next element in the chain, ... In an essentially-ordered series, by contrast, the effect is just being “passed along.”

    I tried to understand it at a finer level. I can't see a clean distinction between the two, and I really think you missed the point of my discussion. If you look at causation from a physical perspective, "the hand moving the stick" becomes a complex web of forces, mass, and material properties. And than it becomes much less clear that an effect is just being passed along. Then, you have to ask whether there is a clear distinction between essential and accidental ordering. And if there is, where should the line between them be drawn?

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  15. Hugo said: "It could, or not, as we have no way to know whether the chain breaks down."

    I say: How do you know that infinite power lines with no power plant can't light a lamp? How do you know that infinite moons with no sun can't provide light?

    Hugo said: "Analogies fail us because they always use things that are actualized potentials."

    I say: I have no idea what you're saying here.

    Skeptical said: "you have to admit that causality (of that type, at least) really entails a temporal sequence of events, even if it appears to be simultaneous."

    I say: It doesn't matter if time is required for change, in a moment there is still a sequence of changers with a first member.

    Martin said: "whether a series is simultaneous or not is not important, and can be dropped."

    I say: I agree.

    Hugo said: "Stating that we see change, that we see potentials being actualized, works for analogies, but only for analogies."

    I say: I have no idea what you're trying to say here.

    Hugo said: "Each item used in these analogies is something that was actualized by something else. Every single thing around us is like that."

    I say: So what?

    Hugo said: "So we don't know whether the chain of existence, of all of existence, requires something non instrumental."

    I say: How does that follow at all?! "Everything in the argument exists, so we don't know something."

    Skeptical says: "As far as I can tell, the distinction between essential and accidental seems to be the directness of the cause."

    I say: I think that this and the rest of the stuff you said is way off base. Stop thinking temporally. Stop thinking across time. Start thinking about the order of changers in an instant.

    Hugo said: "the Sun is not sustaining anything as it's still just temporal cause and effect, a chain of actualized potencies."

    I say: In a moment in time, the sun is an earlier sustainer of life than the food you eat which is a later sustainer of life. In a frozen moment in time, you can still know that the sun came earlier in the list of things that sustain life, than food.

    Hugo said: "But that sounds a lot like concurent, or simultaneous, which we know doesn't fit our real world."

    I say: In our world, in a frozen moment in time, a father is in some way earlier in the sequence of father and son.

    Hugo said: "Right, we are reasoning down to more fundamental levels of reality. We reason from sunlight, to gravity, to mass, to Higgs, to... we don't know."

    I say: Well, think about it. What could be past Higgs? The bleep. What's past the bleep. The blorp. Are we sure that's the end? Well is the blorp mixed actuality and potentiality? Yes? Then there needs to be something before it. What can be more primitive than existence itself? What is the thing you have left when you remove all potentialities? Pure existence.

    Hugo said: "The arguments for why it must end are only analogies, which refer to things that are in that chain in order to argue that there must be something different than those things in the chain."

    I say: The arguments involve derivations, not analogies.

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  16. I want to thank Ramz...er, I mean "FuckMartin" for leaping into the middle of the conversation as he is wont to do, and for doing some of my work in responding to Hugo and im-skeptical. However, responding to every little point gets this shit all clutter up. Consolidate, I say! Consolidate!

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  17. Hugo,

    >I don't see why it is necessarily ending, or not. The arguments for why it must end are only analogies

    The argument for termination of an essentially-ordered series is not an argument from analogy. As I explained above, it is the argument that an effect entails a cause, and/or that explanations cannot be circular (homunculus fallacy).

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  18. im-skeptical,

    I can see now that all these analogies just complicate it, which I tried to rectify above. An essentially ordered series is just reasoning from effect to cause, or more generally reasoning that the explanation cannot be the explanandum. See my point about Dawkins above.

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  19. Hi Martin,

    Consolidating is indeed a goos idea! I have been tring to narrow down on that 1 thing we disagree on and your friend (?) did help a bit actually, when he said: "Then there needs to be something before it. What can be more primitive than existence itself? What is the thing you have left when you remove all potentialities? Pure existence. "
    That's stating the conclusion! I am precisely asking about that so-called pure existence. What is that? Why does it need to exist?

    So far, the only reasons are analogies, (rocks don't move, hands do; power lines don't generate electricity, power plants do...), to which you replied: "The argument for termination of an essentially-ordered series is not an argument from analogy. As I explained above, it is the argument that an effect entails a cause, and/or that explanations cannot be circular (homunculus fallacy)."

    But that doesn't answer my question as what this termination has to be, and as to why there needs to be a termination. This is not circular; it's either infinite or not, but I claim none of us know. I am using all of your words here so I don't see how it could be more clear.

    Also, let me clarify again that I am not even saying that you are wrong, because I cannot prove you wrong. And that's my only point here, really. You could be right, but I don't have reasons to believe that you are. The effects we see entail causes, yes, but theses causes are themselves effects, that entail causes, etc... so I just don't believe that this has to stop, or not.

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  20. FuckMartin: "whether a series is simultaneous or not is not important, and can be dropped." I say: I agree.
    ...
    I think that this and the rest of the stuff you said is way off base. Stop thinking temporally. Stop thinking across time. Start thinking about the order of changers in an instant.


    - Well, that certainly clears things up. Being simultaneous is not the important aspect of essentially ordered series, but I should think about the order of changes in an instant. Yeah, whatever, dude. I think you have no idea what you're talking about. At the least, you are contradicting yourself.


    Martin: An essentially ordered series is just reasoning from effect to cause, or more generally reasoning that the explanation cannot be the explanandum.

    - You definitely missed my point. I wasn't talking about an infinite sequence of causation. I am saying that if you look at causation at a finer level of detail (small chunks of material causing the movement of other small chunks of material), then the difference between essential and accidental becomes less distinct. Here's something for you to think about: Consider a chain of dominoes falling, one after the other. Knock down the first one, and eventually the last one will fall. Is that essential ordering or accidental? What is the reasoning you employ to say it is one or the other?

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  21. Hugo,

    >But that doesn't answer my question as what this termination has to be, and as to why there needs to be a termination.

    It's simple, as I explained above. The explanation cannot be the explanandum. So the explanation for some phenomenon X must be not-X. In the case of the First Way, the explanation for "potencies being actualized" must be not "potencies being actualized."

    Why there needs to be a "termination" is also explained above. It's like you're talking past me. It's not that there needs to be a "termination," but that an effect entails a cause, and the cause cannot be the effect. So if "potencies being actualized" is an effect (as argued to be in the first premise), then that entails a cause, and coupled with the Homunculus fallacy means that whatever it is it cannot be the thing being explained. So it must be something that is NOT "potencies being actualized."

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  22. im-skeptical,

    I think you should drop all the terminology of temporality, and linear this and that, and everything else, and pay attention to what I said above. The reasoning employed by Aquinas is the exact same reasoning employed by Dawkins in the complexity argument: the explanation for a phenomenon cannot be the explanandum. It's that simple. He's not doing anything else other than that. First he argues that "potencies being actualized" is an effect, and then reasons that, since the explanation cannot be the explanandum, the explanation must be something that is NOT "potencies being actualized."

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  23. " think you should drop all the terminology of temporality, and linear this and that, and everything else, and pay attention to what I said

    - I thought that's what I was doing. See my last comment. Is there anything about "temporality"? Or "linear this and that"? No, I was trying to focus on a question that you haven't answered. This question is at the heart of the debate that brought up this whole discussion in the first place. But you prefer not to discuss it. OK.

    Now, I hear what you're saying. "The explanation cannot be the explanandum." And "there needs to be a termination." And for some reason, you keep trying to focus on the supposed fact that Dawkins made a similar argument. (Actually, he was pointing out the absurdity of the design argument, which isn't the same as this issue.) I prefer to give respect where respect is due, but not to subjugate my own thinking to the dictates of others, no matter who they are.

    So now we should drop our discussion of essentially ordered causal series, and just repeat your holy mantras, "the explanation cannot be the explanandum", and "there needs to be a termination." These mantras are contrived to lead the believer to the logical conclusion that God did it.

    But I don't buy the logic. You say that the need for a termination has been explained. That's true only if one buys the presumptions that you make. I think there are other possibilities. It depends on one's understanding of causality. Does there really need to be a termination? How can we hope to get at answers to a question like that if you keep telling me that I shouldn't think about in a way that is consistent with the only reality that I know, and instead, just keep repeating your mantras that are intended to lead to your preconceived answers? If you want to discuss this question rationally, then it is you who needs to explore the logical possibilities. Why are you so closed to discussing these things?


    the explanation must be something that is NOT "potencies being actualized."

    - Now there's something we agree on.

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  24. Skeptical said: Well, that certainly clears things up. Being simultaneous is not the important aspect of essentially ordered series, but I should think about the order of changes in an instant. Yeah, whatever, dude. I think you have no idea what you're talking about. At the least, you are contradicting yourself.

    I say: Imagine a snowman with a base, a middle, and a top. Now take a picture of it.

    Anything incoherent yet?

    I can ask, what is the cause of the head of the snowman not falling to the ground.

    The answer is the middle part, and then the base. The base is more fundamental than the middle part, because without the base, the middle part would fall to the ground also.

    Anything incoherent yet?

    We don't need to look across time to reach the answer that the base holds up the snowman. We only need to look at the system in an instant to determine that the base holds up the snowman.

    Anything incoherent yet?

    Why do you think it is incoherent to look at a chain of dependencies in an instant, rather than across time?

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  25. im-skeptical,

    > he was pointing out the absurdity of the design argument, which isn't the same as this issue.)

    It's precisely the same reasoning. Dawkins is saying that if complexity needs an explanation, it won't do to postulate an even more complex designer since that just defers the problem; rather, what we need is something simple, such as evolution in biology, which consists of just a few simple base principles. This is exactly the same reasoning Aquinas is using, that if potencies being actualized is something needing to be explained, what is needed is something that is NOT potencies being actualized. That's it. You can't simultaneously agree with Dawkins and disagree with Aquinas (his premise about circularity, not necessarily his entire argument), since they are one and the same underlying principle.

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  26. Martin,

    I agree that Dawkin's point was "the explanation cannot be the explanandum". I do not agree that he was making any point at all about an infinite regress, as you stated in the OP. I believe he said no such thing.

    But my point to you is that it does not impress me when you use a big-name atheist as an example of logic that I'm supposed to accept, especially if you distort the argument he makes. The logic of your argument should stand on its own merits.

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  27. FuckMartin,

    I still say you are contradicting yourself when you say I should stop talking about temporality because it's not important, but you still insist that "We only need to look at the system in an instant".

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  28. im-skeptical,

    I wasn't really pointing out Dawkins to "sweeten the well," but just to point to a well-known, popular argument that is similar to Aquinas and is self-evident. When Dawkins says that the explanation for complexity cannot, itself, be complex, we instant understand why. Aquinas is doing something similar.

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  29. Skeptical, from what I can tell, you are saying that I am contradicting myself because I am: 1) Insisting not to speak temporally, and 2) Speaking temporally myself.

    To this I say, you are looking for a contradiction instead of trying to charitably interpret what I'm telling you.

    The contradiction can be removed by rephrasing: "Stop speaking temporally and here is a temporal statement," to, "Stop speaking across multiple moments in time and start speaking about a single moment in time." There is no contradiction here.

    Now, I would appreciate if you would answer me if it makes sense that the base of a snowman is the cause of the top of a snowman not to fall, even in an instant.

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  30. Martin: When Dawkins says that the explanation for complexity cannot, itself, be complex, we instant understand why.
    - Then you probably shouldn't have added the part about an infinite regress, because that's not the argument he made.

    FuckMartin: you are looking for a contradiction instead of trying to charitably interpret what I'm telling you.
    - You agreed that I should stop talking about the temporal aspect of causality because it isn't important to the issue at hand. And that contradicts "Stop speaking across multiple moments in time and start speaking about a single moment in time." Either it's an important issue, or it's not.

    Now, I would appreciate if you would answer me if it makes sense that the base of a snowman is the cause of the top of a snowman not to fall, even in an instant.
    - If we look at an instant in time, we cannot infer that the base is holding up the top. It might be on the verge of collapsing. Furthermore, why should we stop at the base? Whenever you identify some "instrumental cause", there is always something else that is the cause of that cause. So why make the completely arbitrary choice of one particular thing as being "the cause"?

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  31. > why should we stop at the base?

    That's kind of the point of First Way...

    If you look to where you must stop, it is at existence itself.

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  32. That's kind of the point of First Way...
    If you look to where you must stop, it is at existence itself.


    - So then what's the point of all this essentially ordered causal series stuff? Why does Feser speak of "instrumental causes"? Why not just say there is an ultimate cause of all causes, and leave it at that?

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  33. I don't know. Ask Martin.

    Thomists identify pure existence with God, which is an unintuitive move. You need to know jargon about act and potency to derive god properties.

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  34. im-skeptical,

    As I explained above, it's just an alternate way of speaking of explanatory circularity.

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  35. Here's a non-circular argument:

    The universe must be caused by something.
    That something could be a brute fact.
    Therefore, the universe could be caused by a some brute fact.

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  36. Facts are abstract. They're not the type of things which are causal.

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  37. What is circular about this?

    The middle part holds up the top.
    The base holds up the middle.
    The universe holds up the base.

    Existence holds up the universe.

    That doesn't look like a circle to me. That looks like a straight line down.

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  38. It doesn't look circular to me, either, and I never said it was. But I still have no reason to believe the assertion you make.

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  39. The universe can't be the cause of its own existence.

    Existence exists by its essence.

    Existence isn't the essence of the universe.

    The universe depends on existence to exist.

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  40. The basis of Thomistic arguments: assertions that I have no reason to accept as true.

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  41. Close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears.

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  42. Happy new year folks!

    Martin said:
    "So the explanation for some phenomenon X must be not-X. In the case of the First Way, the explanation for "potencies being actualized" must be not "potencies being actualized."
    There's a difference between the 2 sentences here.

    The first one means that something cannot change itself (an X cannot explain itself).
    The second means that "potencies being actualized" cannot all be explained by "potencies being actualized." (X's cannot all be explained by other X's).

    But the latter is not logically necessary. It's possible that X's are all explained by other X's. It's not circular as each thing, each separate X, is explained by another X, not by itself. It's thus possible that the set of all X is infinite, just like it's possible that it's not.
    No?

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  43. (Posting the following too but I was hesitant as the previous comment really ia what matters, and maybe I misinterpreted your words. So please do address the top and ignore the bottom if it's not relevant... there are also some side comments to add, vut again, not as important. Thanks!)

    That's not all though because everything in our reality is a type of X, some "potencies being actualized." Therefore, another problem, which was made more obvious in the last few comments actually, is that the explanation asserted for X's is something that is a non-X. But what does that mean? It's supposed to be that it's pure actuality, but again, what does that mean? No potentials? But then that's defining something by what it's not, not by what it is. We get a chain of existing things that require sustenance by a non... non-existing thing?

    Of course not, that's not what you claim, but it's not that far, in the sense that it has to be something that exist, and explain things that exist, but has no explanations itself. It's strange and undefined, so I am just not convinced this has to be the case. Just like the opposite; an infinite chain is also strange and undefined. So I reject both, and also note that we could be mistaken completely about how reality, existence itself, operates, and it could be that the answer is something else we cannot really explain.

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  44. Hugo, circular series are disallowed because the explanation is circular.

    Infinite series are disallowed because an infinite amount of power lines won't light a lamp. You need a power plant.

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  45. - Circular series are disallowed, sure, that's not what we're seeing anyway (note that this is something we could be wrong about, should we have the wrong picture of reality)

    - Infinite series are possible. Power lines are just an analogy. You cannot logically apply it to all existing things, which both power lines and power plants, and everything else we know of, are.

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  46. And brute facts are NOT abstract, if they actually exist. God is abstract.

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  47. Skeptical, facts are true propositions. Propositions are abstract.

    Concrete entities are causal. God is causal. God is concrete.

    Hugo, if you can explain to me why an infinite amount of power lines will never give power, then you should be able to see why a causal series must have a beginning.

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  48. The power line is just an analogy.

    The First Way is the start of an argument for the existence of God, and its flaw, its only flaw really, is that it uses an analogy to try to apply it to everything around us.

    An infinite amount of power lines will never give power because we know exactly what a power line is: it transmits power from a source, a power plant. The power plant is special in this case, in the sense that it produces power while the power line only conducts it. The problem is to then argue that the fact that things are changing, in the reality around us, means that reality itself must be sustained by something else, something that is fundamentally different from anything else. There is no reason to accept that. That's where the analogy stops working.

    That's what I expressed above with the set of things of type 'X'. Using that same analogy of the power line again, what we have is something like 'power lines are Xs', they transmit power from a thing that generates power, such as a power plant. Power plants are Ys. Therefore, when we see a power line, we know there must be an element that is not an 'X' powering the power line; we know there must be a 'Y'. But why can we say that? Because we already know what the Xs and the Ys are.

    The First Way is supposed to argue for the necessary existence of something like a Y, but it only has Xs to work with.

    Therefore, it fails at justifying the existence of a thing that is not an X, of some Y, or whatever it would be. All it does is correctly state that the Xs we see around us rely on other Xs to be sustained. The effects we see in the Xs around us did not come to be that way on their own; a single X cannot just change itself, cannot move itself, cannot make itself to exist as the X that it is. We always find another X making it that way. But why would it have to stop with something that is not an X? That's what I am asking...

    Again, I am not arguing that Xs are all that exist. I am not saying that there cannot be some object that is not of type X. I am not saying there must be an infinite causal series of Xs. All I am saying is that I am unconvinced by the argument that attempts to justify the existence of such thing, of that 'Y' which is only defined in that it's not of type 'X'... because all we see in our real world right now is a type of 'X'.

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  49. Let me add yet another way to look at it, using the same analogy again... We are looking at a transmission line and you say: 'there must be a power plant'. To which I reply: 'Of course! Let's go see it'. So we follow the power line and, obviously, find some power plant, but we're still outside. So you say: 'there must be a power source!'. To which I reply: 'Of course! Let's go see it'. So we enter the power plant to find out that it's actually powered by natural gas. Now you say: 'that natural gas requires an explanation! To which I reply: 'Of course! Let's go see it'. Do you see where this is going? At that point of course, we need to figure out where the natural gas come from, we can then investigate how it came to be in the soil, how its carbon content was compressed, etc... but we can do better, much better, and trace the carbon atoms to stars the exploded as supernova, and these stars were formed by hydrogen gas collapsing, the hydrogen was formed shortly after the Big Bang, and then... well, I don't know, do you?

    But the problem is that you (or the argument I should say) kind of claim that we do know, because the conclusion of the argument is that there must be something different, something that can cause of all of these things to exist, to move, to become what they are, without itself being moved, or changed, or caused to exist. That thing is defined by what it's not, not by what it is. And I claim that there is no reason to believe such a thing necessarily exist.

    Finally, the other thing I would like to know is what you guys think this proves exactly? It's still not clear to me. I know Martin mentioned a few times that it is only about inferring a cause from the effects. So is that it? You consider that the argument proves that there must be a special cause that was not itself caused? Or is there anything else to infer from the argument?

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  50. Martin, fyi, I wrote a little more today as I think this is kind of a wrap-up. As I mentioned several comments above, I think we know what we disagree on so I think we'll probably get to say 'agree to disagree', but you had a fair request in that you wanted to make sure we clarify what we disagree on. I think the exchanges that followed made that clear and I appreciate the continuation as there were a few details I had not considered. At the same time, I think the disagreement remains in the same spot, which I have summarized in the form of a few questions in my last paragraph above.

    I wanted to add this as I will be out for several days without the internet... so I look forward to reading your side of the wrap-up!

    Cheers

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  51. Hugo,

    >its flaw, its only flaw really, is that it uses an analogy to try to apply it to everything around us.

    I've already said that it doesn't. Why do you keep repeating this?

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  52. Martin, looks like we're online at the same time, but I really need to go... so I can just say that it 'must' apply to everything. If it doesn't, then it fails even more as an argument as it proves nothing at all. It would just argue that some chains of causation have a start, which is trivial. The point is to prove that there is something sustaining these chains, all chains. No? What's the point otherwise?

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  53. Martin, why is the difference between "mixed act and potency" and "pure act" a difference in kind rather than merely in degree?

    Martin, potentiality isn't actually a thing, it's an absence of a thing, so isn't there really only "complete actuality" and "partial actuality"?

    Martin, cause and effect are like signal and receiver. Hugo is saying that instead of having an infinite sequence of "signal aids" which begins with a "signal originator" he is fine with having an infinite sequence of "signal-receiver-and-transmitter"s. What's unclear about this? There need be no originating source for the signal. An infinite sequence of "signal-receiver-and-transmitter"s is enough to account for the existence of a signal.

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  54. Hugo,

    > I can just say that it 'must' apply to everything

    As a fallacy does. I explained above that it's the Homunculus fallacy.

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  55. FuckRamzi,

    >Hugo is saying that instead of having an infinite sequence of "signal aids" which begins with a "signal originator" he is fine with having an infinite sequence of "signal-receiver-and-transmitter"s. What's unclear about this?

    Nothing is unclear about it at all, seeing as what you've just described is the distinction between accidentally-ordered and essentially-ordered series. Which you should know by now over the half-decade we've been talking about, FFS!

    Caleb Cohoe describes the difference:

    "Gaven Kerr presents a helpful way of formalizing this difference: accidentally ordered series can be represented as a series of one-one dependence relations where each member depends directly only on the previous member: (v→ w)→ (w→ x)→ (x→ y). In essentially ordered series, by contrast, the later members depend directly on (and derive their membership from) all the earlier members:
    (v→(w→(x→y)))"

    But again, to reemphasize, and to avoid everyone carrying on about "burdle burdle burdle temporal seris!!1!!! burdle burdle burdle simultaneous!!!!1!!!! burdle burdle burdle infinity burdle burdle burdle!!!", it really just boils down to the Homunculus Fallacy, for fuck's sake. The exact principle Dawkins appeals to in his argument against the design argument: you cannot hope to explain complexity with something even more complex.

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  56. Maybe you're just a shit teacher.

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  57. Martin,

    I think this explanation from Cohoe is helpful in explaining the concept. But I don't think it refutes any of my previous objections. On the other hand it raises a new objection: If causal chains as conceived by Aquinas are really about ontological dependency (“those things are called causes upon which other things depend for their being (esse) or their coming to be (fieri).”), then we are facing a difficult question of what exactly constitutes this "being" that is the effect of the cause. In my post, I raised this question:
    And what we see as an illuminated room is really a series of individual events, where our eyes sense photons, one at a time, which then produces a fused image in the brain, which we see as a coherent picture. No one photon produces more than a tiny part of the image.
    If the illuminated room is regarded as a state of being, we can see, from a physical explanation of illumination, that it is just an illusion. There is no such state of being in physical reality. But even with that understanding of the in esse causal chain, we can always demonstrate that it is indistinguishable from accidental causation of you examine it in fine-grained detail.

    Second, you have repeated the Dawkins example, even though I told you what he was arguing. Now, this gets my goat, because I keep hearing from theists about my ignorance on what the theistic argument is really saying. But the same people who make those accusations also make inaccurate representations of their opponents' arguments. I'm doing my best to listen to what you say. I wish you would do the same.

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  58. wut about wen two cards hold each other up????????

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  59. Hi Martin,

    It's been over a week already so it seems that you won't have anything to add. It's unfortunate as, as you mentioned above, "it's somewhat unsatisfying to just disagree without reasonable justification". Ironically, I thought it was clear at the very top, yet now I am the one left unsatisfied, finding myself puzzled by the lack of justification from your side. So let me try to clarify why I say this with a few questions, should you wish to answer...

    1) Why do you get so upset about this topic?
    In your last comment, you included FFS twice, inserted a comment about how 'everyone' goes budle-burdle-burdle, and complained about how this should be clear to Ramzi (?) after 5 years. Yet, the fact that these conversations keep going on after 5, 10, heck 5,000 years, should make you realize that it's not obvious at all. Hence, getting upset is really strange, as it seems to imply that you think that it's obvious, that one has to be unreasonable, or dogmatic, or I don't know what, to not agree with you. But why? One reason could be that there's something you think is factual being rejected here, which brings me to my second question.

    2) What do you think we are getting factually wrong VS where do you think we just disagree?
    That's what I tried to explain above and we just never settled it. It's normal that people disagree on complex philosophical questions and we just have to accept that. But at the same time, we should not accept the rejection of things which are obviously true, we should not tolerate the denial of facts. If we take something we agree on for instance (if I remember correctly), it is not a question of opinion whether humans evolved from some common ancestors that all humans/apes/mammals/etc... share. However, I have to concede that it is my opinion that no god was involved, while some people think that some god was involved. What I think we should not tolerate is the rejection of the fact of common descent.

    3) You presented an argument, yet insisted that "it's all about the it really just boils down to the Homunculus Fallacy". Why?
    How can you present an argument and argue that the single strongest thing about it, or the most obvious thing about it, is that it is 'not' a specific type of fallacy? If not, what is the simplest way to put the argument forward? Moreover, you have not addressed im-skeptical nor my points regarding this. We both responded to your mention of that fallacy and why the responses to your argument are not using that fallacy, just like Dawkins' points was not useful for the argument you are presenting. Why did you not respond to my notion about sets for instance? It is directly related to the point made in Caleb Cohoe's paper, which was both tedious and interesting to read btw. I might comment on that more later as I wanted to do another pass and take notes, because it's obvious to me where the flaws are with the argument, even more after reading that paper!

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  60. Sorry guys, been busy and haven't really had the chance to sit down at the computer long enough to type up responses.

    im-skeptical,

    >If the illuminated room is regarded as a state of being, we can see, from a physical explanation of illumination, that it is just an illusion. There is no such state of being in physical reality. But even with that understanding of the in esse causal chain, we can always demonstrate that it is indistinguishable from accidental causation of you examine it in fine-grained detail.

    Again, the concept of essentially ordered series just boils down to, as Cohoe puts it, this simple principle:

    "For any given effect, insofar as it is an effect, there must be a cause capable of producing it."

    Continuing to talk about this time lapse thing is a red herring. If you infer an unobserved cause from an observed effect, you're reasoning exactly the same as Aquinas is in the First Way.

    That's all there is to say about it. If you reject the basic reasoning at the core of the First Way, then you must reject all the other examples I've given, such as inferring dark matter from the observation of galactic expansion, inferring a motor from the observed motion of clock hands, etc. No amount of repeating your "time lapse" issue ad nauseum will magically allow you to accept these latter examples while rejecting the First Way; they stand or fall together.

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  61. Hugo,

    >Why do you get so upset about this topic?

    I get "upset" when people continually transform something into something it's not. For example:

    >...the fact that these conversations keep going on after 5, 10, heck 5,000 years, should make you realize that it's not obvious at all...

    This comment makes me "upset" because it's simply not true that people have been debating the Homunculus fallacy for thousands of years, or that it is controversial at all. It isn't. I don't know of anyone of any significance arguing, disputing, or wondering whether explanations can be the explanandum.

    >What do you think we are getting factually wrong VS where do you think we just disagree?

    What you are getting factually wrong is in thinking there is any more to this premise than what I've already explained above about a half dozen times: that explanations cannot be the explanandum. Any disagreement here is silly, or unsatisfying. I don't accept that you don't accept that explanations cannot be circular. I think you implicitly realize this, hence all the layered-on strawmen and red herrings which allow you to disagree with it.

    >You presented an argument, yet insisted that "it's all about the it really just boils down to the Homunculus Fallacy". Why?

    Because it does...? That's all it is. All Aquinas is doing in the First Way is presenting some phenomenon that requires explanation (change), and reasoning, as we all do, that the explanation cannot be the explanandum, so therefore there is something that is NOT change.

    There's your First Way, right there. That's all there is to it.

    >It's possible that X's are all explained by other X's. It's not circular as each thing, each separate X, is explained by another X, not by itself.

    Sure, and there's no problem with X being explained by another X. But if X need explaining, then explaining it with X is just deferring. The homunculus fallacy even hints at this: while it may be perfectly true that a "little man" inside your head is seeing things on a screen, that still leaves the original phenomenon, vision, unexplained. Again, Dawkins refers to this as well: if complexity implies a designer, then the designer would have to be even more complex and thus would imply a designer himself, getting us nowhere near an explanation for complexity but farther from it. If complexity demands an explanation, then that that explanation will have to ULTIMATELY be something SIMPLE. Thus, his central argument about sky hooks and cranes. In fact, the entire premise of his book is based on this principle!

    So I'm "upset" because of the endless attempts to transform a simple argument into something it is not. Strawmen "upset" me. And I'm also "upset" at the endless attempts to try to get out of explanations not being circular. You know perfectly well that even IF vision can be explained by a little man in your head that that still leaves the phenomenon "vision" unexplained, which is what we are trying to explain! Lump your primary vision and the little man's vision together into "vision" and explain it: the explanation can only be something that is NOT vision. Anything that IS vision is going to lump together with you and the little man. It is VISION we are trying to explaing in this context, not just this or that particular instance of vision.

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  62. Hi Martin,

    I am also super busy so I totally get that. I am glad you found the time to write back!

    Great points here:
    " it's simply not true that people have been debating the Homunculus fallacy for thousands of years"

    So let's discuss that if you're so inclined. You repeated the point a few times:
    "I don't know of anyone of any significance arguing, disputing, or wondering whether explanations can be the explanandum.
    [...]
    explanations cannot be the explanandum.
    [...]
    All Aquinas is doing in the First Way is presenting some phenomenon that requires explanation (change), and reasoning, as we all do, that the explanation cannot be the explanandum
    [...]
    The homunculus fallacy even hints at this: while it may be perfectly true that a "little man" inside your head is seeing things on a screen, that still leaves the original phenomenon, vision, unexplained.
    "

    There are 2 ways to express what I see as a problem here:
    1) Vision being explained by vision does not explain anything, because the 'vision' in both cases is literally the same: some person with eyes who can see. But is that the case with 'change' in all cases? Not at all. Saying that a plant is growing, changing, because of the Sun, which is itself changing because of nuclear fusion, is not an example of the homunculus fallacy.

    2) It's not because some thing is of type 'A' that it cannot be explained by something else, also of type 'A'; that's not what the homunculus fallacy is claiming is fallacious. If it were the case, we would get something absurd: something that 'exists' must be explained by something that does 'not exist'; or that things that exist cannot be explained by things that exist. That's absurd.

    Therefore, it's not true that things that change have to be explained by something that does not change. We don't have support for that idea. The correct statement is that some 'X' cannot be explained by that same 'X', or else we have explained nothing.

    There's more implications, but I will stop here to get your views on this part alone.

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  63. Let me add this too right away, regarding Dawkins example. His point is something like this:
    - Premise 1: complexity requires a designer
    - Premise 2: life is complex
    - Conclusion: life requires designer
    But here's the problem: a designer is also something complex. Therefore, because we accepted premise 1, we now have to conclude that the designer requires a designer. We are stuck in a loop and have explained nothing. Therefore, Premise 1 is not true. Complexity does not require a designer; complexity does not necessarily imply a designer. It can be the case of course, it just does not 'have to' be the case. His point also does not imply that something complex requires something non-complex as an explanation. It's all about what is 'necessarily' the case versus 'could be' the case.

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  64. Hi Hugo,

    >is that the case with 'change' in all cases? Not at all. Saying that a plant is growing, changing, because of the Sun, which is itself changing because of nuclear fusion, is not an example of the homunculus fallacy.

    They may be different, so can be explained by different types of change. So for example a quantitative change like a plant growing may be explained by a qualitative change like nuclear fission. But there are only so many types of change such that eventually you'd circle back around and have a quantitative change explained by a quantitative change, and thus circularity.

    The unmoved mover argument seeks to explain ALL change, not just this or that individual example of change.

    >something that 'exists' must be explained by something that does 'not exist'

    The problem here is that there is no reason to think that existence unqualified requires an explanation. What requires explanation are existing things that are caused to exist by other existing things. That obviously requires explanation, almost by definition. And ultimately a non-circular explanation can only be something that exists without being caused to exist by any other existing thing.

    >His point also does not imply that something complex requires something non-complex as an explanation.

    It absolutely is his point! He thinks a designer, which would be complex, doesn't explain complexity, and thus he posits the relatively simple principle of random mutation and natural selection to explain biological complexity. That's his whole argument!

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  65. Hi Martin,
    "eventually you'd circle back around and have a quantitative change explained by a quantitative change, and thus circularity."
    But that is not a case of 'X' explaining 'X'.
    That is 'A' of type 'X', explaining 'B' of type 'X', explaining 'C', 'D', ... they are never the same thing, logically.

    "The unmoved mover argument seeks to explain ALL change, not just this or that individual example of change."

    Interesting, when I told you that the main flaw of the argument, quote, "its only flaw really, is that it uses an analogy to try to apply it to everything around us." You had replied:

    "I've already said that it doesn't. Why do you keep repeating this?"

    Don't you see a contradiction here? Everything around us is changing, everything. And that's what the unmoved mover argument seeks to explain, and fails at explaining.

    "The problem here is that there is no reason to think that existence unqualified requires an explanation. What requires explanation are existing things that are caused to exist by other existing things. That obviously requires explanation, almost by definition. And ultimately a non-circular explanation can only be something that exists without being caused to exist by any other existing thing."

    That is stating your conclusion. The whole debate here is around that: why do you think there needs to be a caused that does not need a cause itself? The answer is always, always, just analogies: the power line would not conduct power without a power station (but what about the power station?), the snowman wouldn't sit straight without the bottom snowball (but how did it get there?), etc...

    And that's the point of Dawkins' argument too, which you did not correctly assessed here:
    "It absolutely is his point! He thinks a designer, which would be complex, doesn't explain complexity, and thus he posits the relatively simple principle of random mutation and natural selection to explain biological complexity. That's his whole argument!"

    That is the right conclusions, yes, but you did not list the proper steps to reach it. You changed the reasoning. Let me try to put it a slightly different way but it's the same as what I wrote above:

    1) Life is complex
    2) Something complex requires a designer
    3) Therefore Life requires a designer
    4) A designer is complex
    5) Therefore a designer requires a designer
    6) We have explained nothing 'in that specific case'
    Therefore, it is not true that something complex requires a designer, Premise 2 is false. It is possible, and we actually know that it is the case for Life, that something complex came from something simple.

    What you are trying to do is jump to a generalization: something complex cannot come from something complex. But that is completely false. Lots of complex things, heck most complex things around us, come from other complex things: human beings. We are the designers of most of the complexity we see around us. The point is that we cannot extrapolate from that to conclude that Life itself must also have been designed. That's the fallacy that Dawkins is talking about and it does not support the idea that change, ALL change, must come from non-change.

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  66. In summary, the real (and only I think) problem is embedded within this statement:
    " All Aquinas is doing in the First Way is presenting some phenomenon that requires explanation (change), and reasoning, as we all do, that the explanation cannot be the explanandum, so therefore there is something that is NOT change. "
    That is not straightforward at all. What is straightforward is that something cannot be explained by itself, not that something 'changing' cannot be explained by something 'changing', as these 2 things need not be the same.

    Also, I would note that when I had asked you to provide something I am 'factually' wrong about, you did not come up with anything... your response was:
    " What you are getting factually wrong is in thinking there is any more to this premise than what I've already explained above about a half dozen times: that explanations cannot be the explanandum. Any disagreement here is silly, or unsatisfying. I don't accept that you don't accept that explanations cannot be circular. I think you implicitly realize this, hence all the layered-on strawmen and red herrings which allow you to disagree with it."

    The first half is something we do agree on, that explanations cannot be the explanandum, but the problem is elsewhere as this post explains. The second half is some weird mind reading... I could do the same, but I won't, and will instead ask again whether there is something that I am not getting, when it comes to facts.

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