Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Boat Paradox

Imagine you build a wooden boat. As time goes on, you find that part of the boat needs to be repaired, and you replace it with another piece of wood. This process continues until each of the original parts has been replaced by another. Now the question: is this the same boat? If not, at what point did it become a different boat?

This problem has significant implications for our view of the human mind. Each of the body's cells (and indeed, each physical part) is constantly replaced by new ones. Yet, it is surely the case that I am the same person today I was three months ago. Does this suggest an immaterial aspect of humanity?

Monday, November 23, 2009

TAG Made Simple

TAG - the Transcendental Argument for God's existence - argues that the necessary preconditions of knowledge require God's existence. A simple syllogism may summarize what we have in mind:

1. Every law has a lawgiver.
2. There are objective laws.
3. Therefore, there is an objective lawgiver.

Theists view the "objective lawgiver" as God, the Logos. We certainly observe that the universe exhibits certain regularities. There is much order in our experience, so much so that it is rather law-like. By "objective," we mean that certain laws hold independently of human minds. The various logical and mathematical laws fit this description, for example. Even if there were no human beings, the moon could not be not-the-moon.

The question for us to consider is whether these laws require a grounding of some sort. I confess I don't really understand attempts to circumvent a grounding. That would be like having a house without a foundation - it would collapse. Yet it is surely the case that laws of logic and mathematics are not susceptible to collapsing, so an ultimate basis for their reality seems in order. Some may wish to call this "ultimate" something other than "God," but at that point we're just arguing semantics.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Inductive Argument Against Abortion

1. We observe that a value in something usually does not change as a result of a person's disposition toward it.

It is difficult to gauge the initial plausibility of this first premise. There are certainly moral relativists, nihilists, and perspectivists who will question or altogether deny this claim, all with different reasons and degrees. The moral objectivist, however, will likely be persuaded that (1) is true. Consider the value of oxygen. Even assuming that a person is distraught, or deluded, and wishes to no longer inhale the oxygen that keeps him or her alive, this doesn't at all imply that the oxygen no longer has value. In fact, most of us would say this person needs help.

2. If the loss of something brings about mourning, that thing has value.

I would wager that all of us know what this is like. Whether we have lost a loved one, a thing we hold dear for sentimental reasons, or whatever it may be, we're only sad about it because the thing that has been lost has value.

3. The unexpected termination of a pregnancy results in mourning.

Consider an expecting mother's disposition toward her unborn baby. If she wishes to have the child, a miscarriage would be considered tragic. This, however, leaves us with the following conclusion:

4. Therefore, pregnancy has value.

If it is tragic for a woman to have a miscarriage, is it not also tragic whenever the pregnancy is terminated by an abortion? After all, the only difference is a person's (or persons') disposition toward the pregnancy. The value of a desired pregnancy doesn't change simply because of a change in attitude.

The moral relativist may well chime in by suggesting that a thing only has value for the person who gives value to it. What is interesting about this, though, is that the same does not apply to other things we regularly give value to: oxygen, food, clothing, education, health, and happiness. Why make abortion the exception?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Modal Third Way... Yet Again

Recently I've been trying to reformulate the Modal Third Way (MTW) in a more popular, and easily accessible, manner. Here's what I have so far:

1. Something has always existed.
2. Whatever exists is either temporally necessary or temporally contingent.
3. It is possible that all contingent beings collectively fail to exist at some past time.
4. It is necessarily the case that possible truths are explicable.
5. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable only if something exists.
6. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists.

Let's take a look at each premise.

1. Something has always existed.

This is true in light of the metaphysical principle that being cannot arise from non-being. If there were a past time in which nothing existed, then nothing would exist in the present, which is clearly false.

2. Whatever exists is either temporally necessary or temporally contingent.

This premise is true via the law of excluded middle. A being can either exist at all times, or else possibly fail to exist at some time.

3. It is possible that all temporally contingent beings collectively fail to exist at some past time.

No logical law I'm aware of would prevent the possibility of the totality of temporally contingent beings from failing to exist at some time in the past. Here we are appealing to possible worlds.

4. It is necessarily the case that possible truths are explicable.

Even assuming that X has no explanation in the actual world, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that X has an explanation in some possible world.

5. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable only if something exists.

Let's assume the opposite of this premise - namely, that something can be explicable even if nothing exists. If this were true, what is explaining it? Presumably nothing, but nothing explains nothing at all! Hence, something must exist in order for something to be explicable.

If, however, there are no temporally contingent beings at this past time, it follows that the only being that is capable of explaining this is a temporally necessary being. As a result, our conclusion is justified:

6. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Name That Fallacy

Thanks to a TA for this one:

1. Oak trees are shady.
2. Shady things are not to be trusted.
3. Therefore, oak trees are not to be trusted.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Modal Third Way - Part 2

We now continue looking at the Modal Third Way. We have already established that a temporally necessary being exists. Our aim now is to find a bridge between this and God. What reason do we have for concluding that this temporally necessary being is God?

7. Whatever is temporally necessary might be unlimited.

If anything is unlimited, it is most plausibly a temporally necessary being. After all, a thing which is temporally contingent is limited in its duration, so we can, at any rate, rule out the great majority of things as being unlimited. There is no contradiction in the idea of something being both a) temporally necessary; and b) unlimited - at least, there's no contradiction I'm aware of. This entails that there is at least one possible world in which we have a link from temporal necessity to unlimited essence.

We may now, as Maydole muses, "work on establishing a linkage between unlimitedness and explicability."

8. Whatever might explain itself is unlimited.

We may legitimately envisage a possible world in which the temporally necessary being is a first cause of the existence of all other things. From this, we may infer that since such a being cannot be caused by anything else (or else it wouldn't be "first" to begin with), this being must of necessity not be limited by any external object.*

9. Nothing which is unlimited can be explained by anything else.

This premise, I think, is very plausible. As we saw above, a thing X is limited by Y if Y explains X. For example, the sun's rays are explained by the sun itself, and so we conclude that the power of its rays is limited by the power that is produced by the sun.

10. Everything which is unlimited is supreme.

The temporally necessary unlimited first cause must be supreme. For, that is part of what we mean by "supremacy." Moreover, there can be only one Supreme Being. Imagine that both A and B are supreme. If A is distinct from B, then presumably A lacks something that B possesses, or vice-versa. However, a thing can only lack something if it is limited, so whatever is unlimited (and by extension, supreme) must of necessity be one.

11. Therefore, there exists a Supreme Being.

Final Analysis

The argument for a temporally necessary being is, I believe, airtight. We are doing some metaphysics as we make a link from this to the conclusion that God (or, a Supreme Being) exists, but there is nothing wrong with that. I do think we could argue inductively in order to close the gap, however.

Consider the fact that our observations lead us to believe that whatever is limited is temporally contingent. The hardness of a rock, for instance, is limited. We also find that its durability is limited. On the basis of this example, among many others, we generally draw an inference from limitedness to temporal contingency. If, however, a thing is temporally necessary, then its duration is unlimited, since it exists at all times and cannot cease to be, at least in any of the worlds in which it does exist. This ought to give us an incentive to believe that whatever is temporally necessary is also unlimited in other respects, e.g. power. But since a thing is unlimited only if it is supreme (tautology), it follows that a Supreme Being exists in whatever world there is something temporally necessary. And, because a temporally necessary being exists in the actual world, it follows logically and inescapably that a Supreme Being exists in the actual world.

One shortcoming of the MTW, as Maydole himself acknowledges, is that it does not establish that a Supreme Being exists in all possible worlds. For, there are possible worlds in which nothing presently exists, in which case nothing is explicable and there is no need to appeal to a temporally necessary being.

Another drawback is that the MTW establishes only the existence of a Supreme Being; it does not demonstrate the truth of theism per se. At least on the surface of it, there are versions of pantheism that are just as consistent with the conclusion of the MTW as theism is. This shouldn't be disheartening for the theist, though. After all, the MTW does establish a conclusion that flies in the face of (capital "N") Naturalism, and establishing the rationality of an alternative worldview to Naturalism is one of the goals of natural theology.

For an original paper on the Modal Third Way, see: Aquinas' Third Way Modalized

*I'm using the terms, "object," "thing," and "being" interchangeably.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Modal Third Way - Part 1

This entry is the first of a two-part series in which I will summarize and defend Maydole's formulation of the Modal Third Way (MTW). First, some definitions:

temporally contingent - if x possibly fails to exist at time t, x is temporally contingent

temporally necessary - if x exists at all times in world W, x is temporally necessary in W

explicable - explained in at least one possible world

Here is the first part of the proof:

1. Every temporally contingent thing possibly fails to exist at some time.

(1) is true by definition.

2. If all things fail to exist at some time, then it is possible that all things collectively fail to exist at some past time.

We may grant that there was never a time in this world in which there didn't exist at least one temporally contingent thing. However, (2) is much less ambitious. Even the most ardent skeptic will agree that there is a possible world in which nothing existed in the past. (1) actually implies (2).

3. It is necessarily the case that possible truths are explicable.

Many of us (myself included) are already committed to the view that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence. However, some may not be convinced that this is so. Well, lucky for us, we can significantly weaken our principle and still end up with a good argument! Let's say that a brick just pops into existence uncaused and unexplained. To borrow Maydole's expression, it is "well nigh absurd" to assume that there is no possible world in which the brick's existence has an explanation. Such a conclusion would require that we prove a universal negative, and I doubt anyone is up to such a daunting task.

4. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable only if there was never a time when nothing existed.

Imagine that at some point in the past, nothing existed. Would anything exist right now? Surely not, but I'm sure we can find somebody who thinks so. "Out of nothing comes nothing," still seems much more plausible than its negation. What this implies for us is that if nothing existed at some past time, then nothing would exist right now, in which case nothing is currently explicable. But, we already saw in premise (3) that there are explicable things, which means that the contradictory of (4) is false, implying that (4) is true. Something had to have always existed, but no temporally contingent thing meets the qualification of necessity. Therefore, we have a link from these premises to:

5. If there was never a time when nothing existed, then a temporally necessary thing exists.


6. Therefore, something temporally necessary exists.