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Old Hand

52 Posts

Posted - Jun 08 2007 :  11:13:50 AM  Show Profile  Send Da5id a Yahoo! Message  Reply with Quote
Dan Barker wrote:
If everything had to have a cause, then there could not be a first cause.
I'll phrase that a bit more carefully (bit still a bit informally).
Proposition: Everything that happens is the inevitable result of its necessary and sufficient causes. Thus, everything that happens is part of a chain of cause and effect in which every link is, or may be, both an effect of causes and a cause of effects.
**If we assume that a "first" cause comes first in time, then it cannot have been preceded in time by a cause or causes.
**If we allow retro-causation, the problem is still not solved, as our first cause becomes part of temporal feedback loop, and the existence of the loop itself remains unexplained.
It seems apparent to cosmologists that the physical universe began with what is called the "big bang." Did the Big Bang have a cause or causes? Do we need a cause or causes to explain it?
Proposed Solution (open to debate)
Reality is, to some extent, inexplicable. Everything that happens is NOT the inevitible result of necessary and sufficient causes. Everything that happens is not entirely explained or explainable in terms of causes and effects.
Perhaps the Big Bang occurred, not because it was inevitible or even probable, but simply because it was possible.

The nature of time is important to the discussion because, if the universe began, what happened (temporally) before? Did another universe, other universes, begin and end (temporally) before this one?

The regulars here seem to be "into" Martin Heidegger. I'm not. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

Barker brought up the point to deal with the so-called Cosmological Argument, but it seems to have implications even for those who never found the existence or non-existence of God a question worth thinking about.


Old Hand

72 Posts

Posted - Jul 14 2007 :  8:42:18 PM  Show Profile  Send non an AOL message  Reply with Quote
There is nothing before the begaining of time.
The principle of sufficiant reason has its limits.
The question is:
Where did the world come from?
The answer is:
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7 Posts

Posted - Jul 22 2007 :  10:44:56 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I like the phrase "reality is, to some extent, inexplicable". First, because it is a negative property; not what something is like a shape or a category, but what it is not, and secondly because it presumes that there is some determinable ratio between what is explicable and what is not. On the one hand, if I was to say that the explicable portion of reality is infinitesimal to the inexplicable, I would essentially be admitting that all reality is inexplicable. On the other hand, if I am to fess up and say that I cannot even talk about an inexplicable portion of reality (for what could I say about it?), and go farther to admit that if there is no chance in me communicating it even to myself, then I am forced to leave it completely out and enjoy all these thing that I can explicate, which, since I can veritably use the term and other terms to analyze it, would include reality. Thus, all reality would be explicable. For what else could there be but the reality which I can communicate to myself and others. Thank goodness for science, for, despite what we can achieve in reasoning before the fact, there is not logical progression to the ever-expanding vocabulary of science. The ability to explicate is thus, if one chooses to the put the emphasis there, the saving grace of science and exposes science for its real philosophic self. Science is the pursuit of facts. Are not facts the very truth of an explicable reality?
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Old Hand

52 Posts

Posted - Jul 23 2007 :  5:36:46 PM  Show Profile  Send Da5id a Yahoo! Message  Reply with Quote

I had entirely given up on this thread and stopped checking back. It feels good that intelligent people wrote something interesting as a response to something I wrote.

It's hard to reply to non's posting. What I might have to say would depend on knowing what he means, for example, by "birth" in his final sentence.

Heisenberger's posting has the feel of arguments--old arguments--against indeterminism in general. By the way, I'm not trying to imply that an old argument is, for that reason, a weak argument.

The question for me, it seems, is, "To what extent is reality inexplicable?" I suspect, to quite a small extent. This is in the nature of an intuition.

Science works, and it works quite well. The intractable problems seem to be questions like, "Why did the Co[60] atom decay at the instant in time that it did and not another. The math--I learned a bit of it in Nuclear Power School in the Navy before I was sent to the Bolivar--lets me predict with impressive accuracy the probability that it will decay before before a certain instant in time, but it gives me no hint about why it decays when it does (Why this instant and not that one?).

My guess is that the Big Bang occurred simply because there was a finite probability that it would.

It's interesting that Heisenberger considered (if I understood him correctly) just 2 possibilities: reality is virtually entirely explicable, and reality is virtually entirely inexplicable. I've already made it clear what I suspect, so I'm not motivated to argue for the obvious other choice, but I am curious about why he didn't consider it--at least for the sake of completeness.

How does the existence of inexplicability, by itself, "presume" that "that there is some determinable ratio between what is explicable and what is not"? Why can we safely "presume" that?

But back to the Big Bang.... As far as I know, no one argues that the Big Bang was uncaused. (Has Weinberg or Hawking written on this subject?) Whether or not the Big Bang's being caused rules out the possibility that time somehow began with the Big Bang is, I think, an interesting question. If time hasn't started yet, does that fact somehow imply that nothing yet exists? If time has started, does that mean that something (other than time, itself) exists?

It's hard to see why reality should be such that 1, and only 1, utterly uncaused cause can exist. Some theists have recently argued that only entities which haven't always existed (i.e., came into existence or began) need to be caused. If it could be proved to them that time didn't begin with the Big Bang, that the universe (viewed as one "thing") has always existed, would they give up on the idea of a creator god? the idea of a self-caused event or entity comprehensible?

I also find it interesting, per se, that science works. That's equivalent, it seems to me, to saying that reality is decribable with (or able to be modelled with) math. A non-mathematical universe is (I think) at least conceivable.

It's also interesting that at least some of those who replied to a question of mine (about radioactive decay) on sci.physics.research believe that at least one question in physics may be, in principle, unanswerable. Specifically, there is no reason why the Co[60] nucleus decays at one instant and not another. That just doesn't have the "feel" of Newton's physics.

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Old Hand

72 Posts

Posted - Jul 23 2007 :  10:58:29 PM  Show Profile  Send non an AOL message  Reply with Quote
Of course self-cause doesn't make any sense.
When we ask 'why?' or 'how?' we're trying to find something out. If the answer is the thing we were asking about, we havn't gotten anywhere. We still have the same damn thing to deal with, along with a sneaking suspicion that it's not even possible for us to find out anymore.
That's the problem with the principle of sufficient reason. Our explanations have to end somewhere. Even if we can always pursue them further. They always have a (current) final cause, which can't be explained (yet?), not even by claiming that it causes itself.
There's some fancy tricks we can do to numb our minds to the paradox, the skeptics were big fans of them. But we can also just marvel at the paradox itself.
Birth, from a solipsistic point of view (or even just a genuine first-person sort of view) is just as troubling as the Big Bang. They both seem to necessitate earlier causes, outside of the seemingly self -contained system that they are. We can't know about anything outside of our own life any more than we can know about anything outside of the space our world is contained in. And don't get me wrong. There's an awful lot to find out within either of those (if they're really any different) spheres. But we just love ramming out heads against the wall, asking about what can't be accounted for. Birth is the cause of our Being. But as to why Birth in the first place and not nothing at all, that goes outside of what we can know. And the only answer that's worthy of anything might be Death.

A long time ago I read a book that started with two questions.
Who are you?
Where did the world come from?

The first question is really about teleology. Who we are is about what we will do. It's a deep question because we can't know until it's too late.
The second question is the problem of being. Why not nothing at all?
The answer to the second question is Birth.
The answer to the first, Death.
Anything beyond that is detail or myth. Tracing the fallen dominoes back to the Big Bang doesn't answer any questions we have about Being any more than describing who we have-been answers who we are, who we will be, why we are here.
Which is really what both questions boil down to. Why are we here?
Why me?
There have been a lot of fights about how we should answer that question. Or whether it can have any answer at all.
But it's been around for a long time, and worn many a different mask, and it will be around for a long time to come.
Why me?
Why you?
Wait and see.
In the meantime, it's up to you. The answers will come. And no amount of thinking can change that.
I think the real goal should be trying to prepare ourselves so that we have some chance of understanding, rather than try to answer the question before we've seen it through. Because there's always the possibility that the answer will be given, but we won't understand.
And that's pretty terrifying.

btw, Kant really is wonderful at dealing with this problem in the Critique of Pure Reason. He goes a long way towards at least suggesting why this sort of thing happens.
But in the end I think I like Wittgenstein's take.
"Whereof one cannot speak..."
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Matt Holzapfel

44 Posts

Posted - Jul 31 2007 :  6:36:31 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I wrote most of the following a week or so ago, but was unable to finish it until today; hopefully I am not too late to join the discussion:

In his essay “The Two Types of Philosophy of Religion”, Paul Tillich first distinguishes the two ways of approaching God as the overcoming of one’s estrangement with God, or as the meeting of God as a stranger who remains a stranger during and after the encounter. In the first way, God is met as God, unmediated by creatures in the world of space and time, and unobjectified as a creature in space and time. In the second, God is met through creatures and his causal influence upon them, which as we will see makes him just as much a creature as they are, and just as little the true God as they are.

These ways are identified by the terms “ontological” and “cosmological,” respectively, purposely harkening to the arguments of those names—both of which are exhausted and hollow today, and have been for some time. Through it should be said that neither one is supposed to be confused with the arguments by these names, which are in fact merely representations of the cosmological and ontological within the cosmological alone, being used as an attempt to ground the cosmological in itself. It should also be noted that the cosmological at least is not just a means to proving God; it is, rather, the method of explanation for anything about creatures. It is, in other words, reason. On the other hand, the subject matter of the ontological is solely God, as according to Tillich God is the only thing that is not a creature.

The ontological approach was conducted historically in Christianity through the Augustinian tradition, whose great expression Tillich identifies with the 13th century Franciscan theologians, Bonaventura foremost among them. Also named is Meister Eckhart, who counter-intuitively was a Dominican who studied at Aquinas’ school, and under Aquinas’ best pupil, Albert the Great. The cosmological approach is identified with Aquinas; and it could perhaps be identified even more with a contemporary of both Aquinas and Bonaventura, Roger Bacon. For it was he who brought the cosmological tradition to its first, imperfect formulation as what would become modern science; even as the old Aristotelian way was reaching its zenith and the ontological way its nadir, with the former ascending and the latter receding by the failure of the argumentative formulation of the ontological.

Tillich’s presentation of the ontological is imperfect and is of such a nature, whether profound or merely muddled, that resists summary; however, what he attempts to describe in the essay, essentially, is that both God and the soul of man (or the father and son, as revealed in Eckhart’s writings) are necessary dimensions of the personal, which are encompassed by the holy spirit—or their own mutual relation; their saying thou unto one another, to use Buber’s phrase.

It is in this relation, this primordial saying unto between the bounds of the personal, that saying first and always says (and therefore all argumentation establishing God cosmologically occurs within it.) That is, the relation brings separate and unnamable being, language and truth inextricably into one another, with each as what it is only in each other. And this occurs in such a way that God and man are brought also into being, language and truth, as what they are only within the mutual interaction of these three, which are held together by the relation of the personal to the different modes of its dimensions-forming a field which is both between and over and around.

Tillich’s presentation of the cosmological is clearer, and its essence is much more familiar to us. While the ontological is obscured and those who’ve found it strain to describe it, the cosmological is so ubiquitous that we can hardly see anything else. This is not to say that the cosmological isn’t enigmatic in its own right; for it is so close to us that while we see it constantly we can only by stepping out side of ourselves see what it is, as a whole. Though Tillich stops short of the essence of the cosmological, it reveals itself fully as the principle of sufficient reason, and those beings that can be made to manifest themselves or some aspect of themselves in the space allowed for by the principle of sufficient reason. The attempt to posit a first cause, as argued from and as a response to the potential for an infinite regress of causes, is thus seen as an attempt to ground the cosmological in itself.

Of course, Tillich states that the cosmological has merit and one can meet God through creatures. Yet the cosmological cannot sustain religion, nor can it contain its counterpart, the ontological. It cannot even sustain itself—for its attempt at self-sustenance, the doctrine of first cause, is actually a negation of the universal validity of the law of causation. The first cause is uncaused; it is an effect without anything preceding it.

What can be the ground of ground? What principle could be behind the principle of sufficient reason, and what could be behind that? Barker appropriates the theological incarnation of this question as grist for the mill of the apologetics and counter-apologetics industry. But greater minds have gnawed this marrowbone, and it significance is, indeed, found in something much greater than the present day reenactments of old theological controversy. Only the ontological can sustain religion, which is the combination of the cosmological and ontological approaches to God, for it is self-sustaining and can provide the groundless ground that the cosmological requires.

Where the ontological offers the immediacy of God who is the unconditioned ground of all that is conditioned, the cosmological will always offer the mediate, with all the practical and epistemic doubt that it entails. By itself it can only offer the chasm between noumena and phenomena, which also separates God from creation so far as the cosmological, or pure reason, can know. As long as God is known solely through creatures he will become increasingly marginalized. The more we search for him in creatures, the more we will find out about the creatures we attempt to search through—but this will all just be that much more between us and God, who should radiate through all that we find.

The usurpation of the ontological by the cosmological is, of course, a long time in the making; some would say that we’d have to resort to the very beginnings of philosophy to come to grips with it. But once the turning point is found—the formulization of the ontological argument as such—it isn’t hard to follow things from there. The significance of the ontological argument is the attempt at, to use the analytic’s phrase, “cashing out” the ontological in the terms of the cosmological.

Yet this was not mere doctrinal expansionism on the part of the proponents of the cosmological. Rather, it was a recognition, brought out in the course of argument, of the groundlessness of the law of causation, as the first aspect of the principle of sufficient reason that gained expression. The issue, as it was presented and still is, was a choice between the concession of an actually infinite regress of causes, or a denial of the universal validity of the law of causation. Either there is something uncaused, or the chain of causation goes on forever. But there is nothing among creatures that could cause itself; there is nothing in time that could do so, for beings have their moving positions in time and cannot be or bear upon the world from other positions.

Anselm represented the solution—the ontological—in terms of the collapse of the dichotomy of existence and essence in a being whose essence it is to exist. Significantly, his entire discussion is couched in the terms of what can be imagined, which is always confused with metaphysical as opposed to conceptual possibility. A thousand years later Heidegger would resort to the very same collapse in order to represent Dasein in the opening chapters Being and Time, only to come to realize in the Letter on Humanism that the existence essence dichotomy is what defines western philosophy.

In both cases, something external to the cosmological was represented within it, and its language was used to get outside of itself (though of course this was impossible, and it was always only in itself;) but in Anselm's case the external was concealed, while in Heidegger’s case, it was brought out of concealment. It was not that Heidegger merely secularized the ontological argument and turned it into something about the entity that in each case I am. Rather it was the ontological argument that translated into the language of the cosmological the essential truth of religion that Heidegger re-discovered.

Now, it was the impossibility of a first cause in the manner described in the first post, and the supposed impossibility of an actually infinite regression of causes, that served for some centuries as the arch between the cosmological and ontological arguments. Though the ontological was brought to representation in the ontological argument, it was yet held separate from the cosmological principle as represented to itself, in the form of the cosmological argument. The cosmological argument established the place of God at the beginning of the chain of causation, and the ontological argument filled it. One was the form and the other the content.

The vital question that is now at hand is that of the universal applicability of the law of causation, and the failure of these two mutually supporting arguments to endure. The definition of the law, within which is couched the explicit assumption of universal applicability, is well-formulated by Schopenhauer: “...if a new state of one or several real objects appears, another state must have proceeded it upon which the new state follows regularly, in other words, as often as the first state exists. Such a following is called an ensuing or resulting; the first state is called the cause, the second the effect.” (From The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, page 45.)

Schopenhauer’s definition allows us to see several aspects of causation that are obvious, but hidden to the unreflected understanding. The first is that it concerns objects and the second, which amounts to the same, is that these objects show up in time (and space.) The being of objectivity is determined in relation to the subject; an object is not an object until it stands against the subject across the field of representation and is perceived by that subject. Without such a subject to be represented to, there would be no object as such. Furthermore, the form of the field of representation is space and time, within which all objects show up to the subject, and are objects. As Schopenhauer notes earlier in the chapter, time is needed for causation between objects because causation implies change, which is defined as the succession of states. Space is necessary because, as is shown in the definition, two or more objects must be involved, and coexistence requires space to differentiate between objects.

Thus, regarding the so-called “big bang”—it couldn’t have been caused, as it is the limit of space and time. Not only that, but being non-spatial and non-temporal, the very edge of the universe is off limits to our representation, which is bounded by the forms of space and time which define it objects.

Also, as we know, God is not a spatial or temporal object; thus he does not fall under the law of causation at all; and if he could be made to fall under the principle of sufficient reason at all, it would not be under its causal incarnation but rather some other form. Schopenhauer’s work is instrumental again, for he first made explicit that the principle of causation and the principle of sufficient ground (or reason of knowledge) are separate facets of the principle of sufficient reason proper, and they are confused only with serious consequences. It is by such confusion that knowledge about a concept of God becomes the reality of God as an object—as a creature encountered in experience. He is posited and attributes—including the dubious attribute of existence—are posited in him; and all this mere positing leads us to causation in reality, though God is properly beyond time and space and therefore causation.

All of this, of course, was already brought out in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason; Schopenhauer merely made the implications clearer vis-à-vis the principle of sufficient reason, which is now under discussion. Not only was the nature of objectivity and by extension the nature of causation made clear in the first of Kant’s three seminal works, but also the total dissolution of the cosmological and ontological arguments—and with it, the final collapse of an age of thought.

Descartes was understood, according to the “bad novel” of the history of philosophy, as the first modern philosopher, and the one who finally broke with Dark Ages scholasticism. Yet, along with building up the structure of the subject-object opposition and the subjectivist standard in epistemology, he was also a great innovator in the tradition housed between the cosmological and ontological arguments. As is now accepted, Descartes’ philosophy was, though wonderfully innovative, still largely an outgrowth of his scholastic education. This is shown is his use of many scholastic distinctions such as that between formal and objective reality, existence and essence, will and understanding, and also such doctrines as the ontology of perfection and the tendency of things to be like God.

To Descartes, God was the ground of our relation to things and others, and the place for God was found between ontological and cosmological arguments. And God is first found in the soul and then the soul is shown by its own light to be in and of the divine. Creatures are wholly subtracted from consideration in this, only to be found again between God and man in the significance of their relation. Error and evil are caused by the will that affirms what is not clearly and distinctly perceived—as God sees it and wills it in the unity of his understanding and will. Man is found in between nothingness and the absolute being, and can turn towards one or the other to be informed with either one, according to his choice.

When one merely subtracts the argumentative terminology and the method of Descartes, one, in effect, translates the Cartesian philosophy back into the mystic and ontological tradition that ultimately informs all Christian philosophy; for the structure of what Descartes achieves via the cosmological and from the argumentative formulation of the ontological is just the same as what has been found by the mystic encounter.

But where does Descartes’ subsequent significance come from? How was subjectivism made synonymous with Cartesianism? The answer is quite simple: the arguments for God in Descartes’ work, and with them whole of his constructive philosophy past the cogito, were utter failures. And their sole credit was ultimately to show themselves in the light of the subjectivist method, by virtue of their clarity, to be bankrupt without ontological grounding. Or, in other words, the meditations on first philosophy accomplished the rise of all that was in the first two meditations, and the fall of everything in the last four by subjectivism’s closing off of itself from all.

The Cartesian philosophy, taken as a whole, is merely the perfect application of the reflected ontological within the cosmological; or the attempt to follow the cosmological through to the ontological, which would then be both included in the cosmological and the ground for the cosmological. Upon the placid waters of the cogito shines the image God and man and spirit; but when one reaches for them one touches only the water, and the image is lost in the ripples.

Subjectivism only arose as the architecture of modern philosophy from the failure of the ontological and cosmological arguments in Descartes’ philosophy. His method of doubt and hence his subjectivism were supposed to dissolve the pure light of the deity which would, once shone, encompass even the epistemic method that lead us to it. But it is rather the idol of the reflected deity that is dissolved. This where we are today, and it is no surprise that the cosmological, without an independent and grounding ontological, has ceased to be a route to God at all.
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Old Hand

72 Posts

Posted - Jul 31 2007 :  10:00:12 PM  Show Profile  Send non an AOL message  Reply with Quote
The bridge between the two arguments goes something like this:
The cosmological argument,a strict application of the principle of sufficient reason (in the form of sufficient cause) says that if object were not, and then were, if there is a beginning of objects, something mus have cause that (and that something is clearly NOT an object).

The the ontological argument as done so well by parmenides, says that there IS what IS and what IS cannot change. So what IS must not be in time.

Then we call what IS God, and move that into the peg-hole left in the cosmological argument.

And then we dance and sing in praise of this first cause. At least for a while.

But the move that places what IS as the peg in the hole seems rather unjustified. Lacking other options, we'll use the only peg we've got.
But it strikes me as a round peg in a square hole, or even more than that, using the hole to fill itself.

If objects ARE then they are part of what IS. What changes they go through are illusions due to our perspective. Or at least they are if you take what IS from a strictly third (or even second) person point of view, i.e. calling what IS God, and separating it in a very deep way from what we ARE.

Each moment must contain all other moments. What IS IS and cannot NOT BE. We must obtain Truth in the first person as much as the second and the third, and separating what IS from what I AM is a terrible plan. Only confusion and metaphysical nonsense can result.

I know I pretty much refuse to deal with the ontological argument that Descartes inherited from Anselm, and maybe that makes me a bad person.

But does it really have any merit at all?

A note on the original quotation, the one from Barker,
"If everything had to have a cause, then there could not be a first cause."
The proposition of a first cause is largely due to a very common disbelief in the infinite, the sort of thing that makes zeno's paradoxes look appealing to those who haven't come to grips with the infinitesimal calculus. People loathe the infinite, and we work real hard to get rid of it, so much so that at first glance it looks like at least one clause of the statement must be false, otherwise the statement as a whole (provided the truth of the first clause, eliminating its conditional status) proves the existence of an infinity. Either Not everything has a cause (see also: God) or there must be some way for the first cause to be its own cause (see also: God).
When we make the infinite into a single, into a thing, we get God as the result.

But infinity might not be completely insane. I've gotten from point A to point B (seemingly...) enough times that passing through an infinite number of halfway points doesn't bother me all that much.

But would we call the infinite, had we some comfort in it rather than terror, anything else but God?
I suppose not all of those who accept infinity do, but I usually think that most people who have come to grips with the infinite remain in holy awe of it, even if they don't call it God.

That or they just avoid thinking about it at all.

btw matt: lovely to see you back in these parts again. All done firefighting already? or just on break of some kind?
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Matt Holzapfel

44 Posts

Posted - Aug 04 2007 :  1:49:35 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
btw matt: lovely to see you back in these parts again. All done firefighting already? or just on break of some kind?

Thank you--and its good to see you around too; I’ve been out of college for only a few months now, and I already look upon my time in school with fondness, and with the desire to eventually return as a graduate student and perhaps a teacher as well. It is a rare and wonderful opportunity to devote years of one’s life to pure study—after a free public education that is, though flawed, already extensive by the standards of history. I didn’t always make the most of the leisure that I was given; but given the time I devoted to reading, the progress I made in my philosophy, and the fine conversations I had with you, Tom, Joey, Ray, and in all my classes, I think the last year or two was truly worth all the vast effort in history that afforded me such an opportunity.

I’m still on the fire crew, and am doing well all things considered. I’ve been working hard and have made enough money already to go to Europe next year. We’ll be in Glenwood springs for the next couple weeks working as a saw team for a big prescribed burn they are conducted down there. As such, I will be unable to reply to your comments until I return.

Hope your summer is going well, too.

We should get together when I return to Colorado in October.
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