Sunday, November 22, 2015

Metaphysically Necessary Beings, Factually Necessary Beings, and Two Kinds of Brute Facts

(Very rough draft)

I've argued for the live epistemic possibility that matter/energy (or, if matter/energy isn't fundamental, then matter/energy's ultimate constituents) is factually necessary. That is, it's a live epistemic possibility that while there might be possible worlds at which matter/energy does not exist, it's eternal, uncaused, existentially independent, and de facto indestructible at the actual world. I've also argued that factually necessary matter/energy satisfies a weaker version of PSR:
(PSRfn): Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in terms of the factual necessity of its own nature or in terms of an external cause.
Finally, I've attempted to answer a number of objections to this proposal on various occasions. Here, however, I'd like to ignore these points and defend PSRfn by means of a tu quoque argument of sorts. The basic idea is this: A number of proponents of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) have accepted a revised version that allows for brute facts of certain sorts, on the grounds that unrestricted versions of PSR lead to an absurdities, or conflict with other things we have reason to accept. And because of this, they reason, such revisions, and the resultant acceptance of certain sorts of brute facts, is acceptable. But (I argue) if such a basis for revising and restricting PSR (and thereby allowing for certain sorts of brute facts) is acceptable, then by the same token, so is the basis for accepting PSRfn, and the consequent acceptability of the brute existence of a factually necessary being.

To start off, distinguish between objectionably vs. unobjectionably brute facts:

1. Objectionable: there is no explanation of a contingent fact, and there is no good reason to accept this. 

-Example: an iPhone pops into existence without any cause whatsoever. 

-Example: an iPhone is produced without preexisting materials.

2. Unobjectionable: there is no sufficient reason for a contingent fact, but there is a good independent reason to accept this.

(a) Assuming that x has a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence leads to an apparent absurdity. 

-Example: Such an assumption entails that everything exists or obtains of absolute 
necessity, or that we lack free will, etc.

(b) Assuming that x has a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence conflicts with other things we have reason to accept. 

-Example: Such an assumption conflicts with (say) a priori and a posteriori evidence that no being is necessary.

Here's my claim: Positing that there is no sufficient reason for why an independent being exists beyond the factual necessity of its own nature, and is thus a brute fact, is of an unobjectionable sort. In particular, it's a brute fact of type 2(b) above, since assuming the contrary conflicts with something else that we have reason to believe, viz., that no being is metaphysically necessary. Here are three: 

(i) Modal evidence: We have modal intuitions that for any being, there are worlds at which it doesn’t exist.

(ii) Abductive evidenceour extensive experience of an extremely wide variety of concrete objects is such that we find them all to be contingent. What explains this? The simplest, most conservative explanation of the data with the widest explanatory scope is the hypothesis that all concrete objects are contingent beings. 

(iii) Origin essentialism: Widely shared intuitions support the Kripkean thesis that objects have their origins of metaphysical necessity: for any world W and objects x, y, and z, if x was produced by y and z at W, then x was produced by y and z at every other world W' at which x exists. So by implication, if an eternal universe lacks an origin at the actual world, then it lacks an origin at every world. And if that's right, then it's metaphysically impossible for such a universe to have a further explanation for its existence. 

For at least these reasons, then, the existence of a factually necessary universe is unobjectionably brute, since assuming the contrary conflicts with other things  reason to accept. 

Craig On Causal Candidates for the Origin of the Universe

(Very rough draft)

Leaving aside formal and final causes, there appear to be four possible scenarios for the origin of our the universe:

(i) Both an efficient cause and a material cause
(ii) An efficient cause without a material cause
(iii) A material cause without an efficient cause
(iv) Neither an efficient nor a material cause

Now William Lane Craig thinks (iv) is prima facie implausible, and so the position of last resort. However, it should be noted that even Craig grants that (iv) is unobjectionable if the universe is a 4-dimensional block of some sort. But the worry is that many scientists and philosophers think that ours is such a universe.  Many will therefore part company with Craig at this early stage of his argument. However, let's waive this objection for the moment, and grant, arguendo, that Craig is right. Now Craig  ultimately wants to argue that (ii) is the most probable candidate scenario for the origin of the universe. What about the other options?

One might think that, prima facie, (i) is the most natural to assume as a starting point. Indeed, Craig seems to agree. However, Craig has argued that (ii) is the most plausible, on the grounds that our best scientific models indicate that there was an absolute beginning to the expansion of all physical reality, including the multiverse, if such there be. Craig thinks this is supported by the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem.

At this point, one might quite reasonably object that a beginning to the expansion of the universe (or multiverse) doesn't entail a beginning to the existence of the universe (or multiverse). For the universe could've existed in a quiescent state. However, Craig has argued that such a purely naturalistic quiescent universe could be ruled out on the grounds that it would be in an state of absolute rest, from which no event could give rise (barring supernatural intervention). However, Wes Morriston has argued persuasively that the same sort of worry arises for a timeless God prior to the creation of the universe. If so, then neither the theistic hypothesis nor the quiescent naturalistic universe hypothesis has an epistemic advantage over the other. Therefore, (iii) seems to be at least on an epistemic par with (ii).

To add to this debate, I'd push the point further and argue that if (ii) and (iii) really were the two most plausible candidates, (iii) has an epistemic advantage over (ii), on the grounds that we have strong a priori and a posteriori reasons for thinking that a version of the principle of material causality (PMC) is true, and thus that creation ex nihilo is metaphysically impossible. Indeed, it looks as though PMC provides roughly equal grounds for preferring just about any of the other candidates over (ii). However, given the prima facie oddity of a universe arising from an absolutely quiescent state, (i) (i.e., matter/energy, or its ultimate constituents, are eternal, and thus that our universe arose from prior materials) and a (iv) (in particular, an eternal 4d block universe) appear to have an epistemic advantage over both (ii) and (iii).

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Book Symposium on Metz's Meaning in Life

Thaddeus Metz's account of meaning in life is the focus of the October 2015 issue of The Journal of Philosophy of Life. The journal have kindly collected all of the papers into an open access book, which can be found here.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

New Paper on Hume on Miracles

Ahmed, Arif. "Hume and the Independent Eyewitnesses", Mind (first published online August 2015). The paper offers a reply to the "independent witnesses" criticism raised by Earman, McGrew, et al. Here's the abstract:
The Humean argument concerning miracles says that one should always think it more likely that anyone who testifies to a miracle is lying or deluded than that the alleged miracle actually occurred, and so should always reject any single report of it. A longstanding and widely accepted objection is that even if this is right, the concurring and non-collusive testimony of many witnesses should make it rational to believe in whatever miracle they all report. I argue that on the contrary, even multiple reports from non-collusive witnesses lack the sort of independence that could make trouble for Hume.
And if a copy should find its way to my inbox...

UPDATE: Thanks!

Two Important New Books By J.L. Schellenberg...

...are now out:

The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy's New Challenge to Belief in God (OUP, 2015).

Evolutionary Religion (OUP, 2015).

Also, be on the lookout for Adam Green & Eleanore Stump (eds.) Hidden Divinity and Religious Belief: New Perspectives (CUP, 2016), which is due to come out in January.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Morriston's Important New Paper on Divine Command Theory

Morriston, Wes. "‘Terrible’ divine commands revisited: a response to Davisand Franks", Religious Studies (August 2015). Here's the abstract:
If God commanded something that would ordinarily be classified as a terrible evil, would we have a moral obligation to obey? In two previous articles in this journal, I examined and evaluated several different ways in which a divine command theorist might answer this question. Richard Brian Davis and W. Paul Franks have now provided a vigorous rebuttal, in which they argue that my way of handling the relevant counterpossible conditionals is flawed, and that a divine command theorist who avails herself of the metaphysical platform of theistic activism can consistently say that if (per impossibile) God were to command some terrible evil, it would not be the case that we have a moral obligation to do it. In the present article, I clarify my own view and defend it against Davis and Franks's objections. I also argue that the core claim of theistic activism – that there would be nothing at all if there were no God – does not have all the dramatic implications that Davis and Franks claim for it.

In Memoriam: William Rowe (1931-2015)

Very sad news. Details here.
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