Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Cosmological Argument and the Unity of Being

1. Entities that stand in causal relations exist. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, everything that stands in a causal relation is united. (Premise)

3. Necessarily, everything united has some entity E in common. (Premise)

4. Therefore, E exists. (From 1 - 3)

Regardless of whether causality is a universal property among existing entities, few of us will doubt that there are, in fact, causally related entities.  The laptop is being held up by my desk, for example.  Now, in order for these two entities to be causally related, they must have something in common.  If they were completely uncommon with one another, then where would they find the "point of contact," as it were?  Given that diverse objects are capable of having a causal influence over one another, they must find in themselves some unifying existent.  From this, we can continue the argument:

5. Necessarily, E is either corruptible or incorruptible. (Definition)

6. Necessarily, time entails causal relations. (Premise)

7. Necessarily, E exists at all causal relations. (Implied by 1 - 4)

8. Hence, E exists at all times. (From 6 and 7)

9. Therefore, E is incorruptible. (From 5 and 8)

If sound, this version of the cosmological argument establishes the existence of some ontologically necessary, but not necessarily logically necessary, entity.  For the sake of argument, there are possible worlds without any causally related entities. (I don't think this is really the case, since I believe God exists in all possible worlds, and God is a causal entity.)  Nevertheless, philosophers such as Richard Swinburne would be smiling at the argument's conclusion.


  1. I wonder whether 3). is actually axiomatically true. For instance, entity A may share a property in common with entity B, and entity B may share a property in common with entity C, but the properties shared may not be the same ones. Not that I think it's completely unprovable, just not as straightforward as you put it. Also, depending on what theory of time one accepts, 6). may or may not actually be true, as the B-theory, if I understand it correctly, may imply that causal relations are, to quote Kant, "not numinal but phenomenal". That is to say, all temporal becoming is, on that theory, a product of our consciousness. Not that I hold to the view, only that this would be a possible defeater.

  2. Syllabus, you make some good points. You mention that A may share a property with B, and B with C, but not necessarily A with C. Prima facie, this is correct, but so long as A and C both stand in causal relations, then it seems plausible that they are capable of causally influencing one another and therefore have something in common.

    Now supposing that a B-theory is true, there are still earlier than/later than relations, with objects having tenseless explicability. It's not as if tense is a necessary precondition of the PSR. I'm not sure whether the numina/phenomena distinction is pertinent.

  3. First off, I should perhaps clarify that I don't hold to the B-theory for several reasons. I'm just playing Devil's advocate here. Iron sharpening iron, and all that.

    As to things that are in causal relations having something in common: well, I agree that that's probably true. My only objection was that it needed a little more elaboration to properly establish the absolute soundness of the premiss. Again, I'm just trying to help shore things up as soundly as possible. :)

    As to the numina/phenomena distinction: the point I meant to bring up with that is related to the way that I understand the tensed/tense-less theories of time. That is, the way that I read the problem, you seem to need tensed relations in order to have proper causality. This may or may not be correct, as philosophy of time is not really my strong suit. The way that I always understood the B-theory is that temporal becoming is simply a.. I don't know, projection of our minds onto the universe. That's why I brought up the Kant quote. I don't hold to the B-theory, so I don't really see these as defeaters, only potential points of objection from someone who, say, interpreted special relativity as Minkowski did and drew the conclusion that the B-theory was the correct one. I'm just trying to come at the argument from various angles, so as to make it as sound as possible, y'see.

  4. I appreciate you responses, Syllabus. And yes, I agree that the argument needs some further elaboration. So sharpen away! :)

    You're correct that on a B-theory, there is no temporal becoming. However, there are still distinct periods of time with earlier than/later than relations. We can then analyze later than moments as (atemporally) causally dependent on earlier than moments. Let's suppose that a B-theory is true. 9:30 PM is causally dependent on 9:29 PM, even though both periods of time are equally real. For, if 9:29 were non-existent, then 9:30 would be too.

    In other words, I don't think we have to see causation as necessitating temporal becoming.