Monday, June 02, 2008

Outline of Rowe's Chapter on the Argument from Contingency in His Philosophy of Religion, Part II

Notes on Rowe on the Cosmological Argument, Part Two: Four Criticisms of the Argument

0. Review
0.1 Dependent beings: a being whose existence is accounted for by the causal activity of other beings
0.2 Self-existent beings: beings whose existence is self-explanatory, or accounted for by their own inner nature
0.3 The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR): There must be an explanation for (a) the existence of every object, and (b) of every positive fact whatsoever, either in terms of something else or in terms of its own inner nature.
0.4 The basic argument:

1. Either everything is a dependent being, or there is a self-existent being.
2. Not everything is a dependent being.
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3. Therefore, there is a self-existent being.

1. First Criticism: Dependence and the fallacy of composition
1.1 The argument fallaciously assumes that because each member of the collection of beings within the universe is dependent, that therefore the whole collection of such beings is itself dependent. But this doesn’t follow.
1.2 Reply: It would be fallacious to assume this, but the defender of the cosmological argument need not assume it for the argument to work. Rather, since the existence of the collection of dependent beings is a positive fact, then it follows from PSR(b) that there must be a sufficient reason for why the collection exists.
2. Second Criticism: Causation and the fallacy of composition
2.1 The argument fallaciously assumes that because each member of the collection of dependent beings has a cause, that therefore the whole collection of dependent beings has a cause. But this doesn’t follow.
2.2 Reply: It would be fallacious to assume this, but the defender of the cosmological argument need not assume it for the argument to work. Rather, since the existence of the collection of dependent beings is a positive fact, then it follows from PSR(b) that there must be a sufficient reason for why the collection exists.
3. Third Criticism: Nothing’s left to explain
3.1 The defender of the cosmological argument fails to see that once the existence of each member of the collection of dependent beings is explained, the existence of the whole collection is thereby explained.
3.2 Reply: This isn’t necessarily true
4. Fourth Criticism: What’s wrong with brute facts?
4.1 The argument assumes that it’s impossible for there to be brute facts – facts involving contingent beings or events that have no further explanation.
4.2 But what’s wrong with this, exactly? It turns out that it all turns on whether you accept PSR.
4.3 Thus, to see if this criticism of the cosmological argument is any good, we must first see what reason there is to accept PSR. Let’s do so now.
5. Two arguments for PSR
5.1 It’s self-evident
5.1.1 Self-evident propositions are those that, once you understand what they mean, you automatically see that they’re necessarily true. Here are some examples: all triangles have three sides; all red things are colored things; nothing could be red all over and green all over at the same time.
5.1.2 The defender of the cosmological argument claims that the same is true of PSR: once you understand it, you automatically see that it’s necessarily true.
5.1.3 The problem: lots of people who have thought about it for a long time – and thus, presumably, understand what it means – nevertheless fail to see that it’s necessarily true. If so, then this seems to be evidence that it’s not self-evident.
5.2 It’s not known to be true, but it’s a presupposition of reason:
5.2.1 it’s a basic assumption that all people make – or perhaps must make – in order to be rational.
5.2.2 Compare: believing that there are material objects; believing that the there is a past (as opposed to our being created 10 minutes ago, with our minds implanted with false memories, etc.)
5.2.3 Similarly, belief in PSR is a basic assumption like these that all rational people do – and perhaps must – accept in order to be rational.
5.2.4 Some problems:
5.4.1 from the fact that we must presuppose PSR in order to be rational, it doesn’t follow that it’s true.
5.4.2 granted, if PSR really is a presupposition of reason, we should accept it in order to be rationally consistent. But unfortunately, it’s not clear that it is a presupposition of reason.

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