Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The cause has at least the reality of the effect

A traditional staple of cosmological arguments is that at some point after one has established that there is a First Cause, one applies the Reality Principle (RP): If C is the cause of E, then C has at least the reality of the effect. If true, the RP is very helpful. Since among the things caused are intelligent beings, we immediately conclude that the First Cause has at least intelligence, i.e., has intelligence or some attribute greater than intelligence. This helps with the Gap Problem—the problem of showing that the First Cause is appropriately identified as God.

Aquinas, Descartes and Clarke all use a version of the RP in at least one of their respective arguments. Aquinas and Descartes, as far as I know, give no argument. Clarke gives arguments (see p. 49ff), but they are not very plausible to those not already persuaded. The basic intuition behind the RP is either that one cannot give what one does not have (Clarke, ibid.) or that the cause must be relevantly like the effect (Freddoso, email communication). I think there is something to the intuition but don't at present have a better argument.

Note that the RP would make emergentism quite implausible. So figuring out whether the RP is true would advance the discussion in areas other than natural theology.

10 comments:

Derrick said...

I'm confused about a few things. First, what does it even mean to say that something is more or less realthan something else? Is it me or does this claim only really make any sense within an Aristotelian/Scholastic framework of act and potency? Also, in what way does this effect discussions of emergentism? For example, in phil of mind, why would you have to(or even want to) say that mental states are more real that the underlying physical system from which they emerge?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The picture behind this is one on which there are different respects in which a thing might be actual: it might take up space, it might think, it might cause effects, etc.

Heath White said...

FWIW, every time I teach this principle in Descartes' Meditation 3, people bring up evolution as an obvious counterexample.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am not particularly worried about the evolutionary counterexamples. It seems plausible that evolution can only work if the differences between species consist in different arrangements of molecules. But if the differences in species consist in different arrangements of molecules, then there is the same kind of reality in all the species and hence we don't have a counterexample.

Heath White said...

Well, okay, but then your First Cause argument needs to contain a premise to the effect that intelligence cannot be provided by a suitable arrangement of molecules. (I.e. you are committed to a non-material explanation of [parts of] reality, before you ever get to the cosmological argument.) If it can, then intelligence is not a difference in kind of reality between intelligent and unintelligent beings.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Fair enough. (It's obvious that intelligence involves intentionality, and intentionality can't just be a matter of the arrangement of matter. :-) Of course it's easy to deny the obvious.)

Brandon said...

Descartes argues for the principle, although the passage is tangled and somewhat difficult to follow. (It's the same paragraph in Meditation III where he introduces the principle.) He develops it (somewhat) more clearly in the Replies to the Second Objections. The idea, I take it, is that if we reject RP we are committed to saying that 'Nothing comes from nothing' is false, since the former is the basis for the latter; and everyone accepts that nothing comes from nothing. That would make it, perhaps, a precursor of Clarke's argument.

Brandon said...

On evolution, whenever I've taught Meditation III and it's come up, I've pointed out that the supposed counterexample involves a pretty obvious misunderstanding of evolutionary explanation. Evolutionary explanation does not involve saying that a simpler organism caused on its own a more complex organism to exist (even Lamarckianism never went that far); it involves saying that an absolutely huge number of causal factors combined together to make very small modifications to a population over a long enough period of time that the typical nature of the animals in the population shifts. It's been that way since Darwin first traced out the argument that this would work.

On the intelligence issue, even if intelligence could be provided by a suitable arrangement of molecules, this wouldn't necessarily change the character of the argument: either this suitable arrangement needed no cause with at least that much reality, or it has a cause with at least that much reality; thus we are at the same point regardless. The argument really isn't affected, as far as I can see, by the precise nature or make-up of intelligence; if it's an effect, it still requires a cause and (since ex hypothesi we have established a First Cause) the conclusion would still have to be that the First Cause has intelligence or something greater. Catholics and Baptists presumably wouldn't want to leave it at that; but I know some Mormons who would be happy to take the argument in a materialist direction.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Brandon:

Maybe a better potential counterexample than evolution is quantum mechanics. Suppose that some feature is just a matter of the arrangement of molecules. Well, just about any rearrangement can happen at random--the molecules can just jump into the required locations--it's just that some rearrangements are more likely than others.

Brandon said...

That would be an improvement. The tricky thing about this (and any other proposed counterexample that seems likely) is that it seems at its most effective simply to create an impasse: the counterexample can't be a counterexample unless it is taken to be the case that no causes other than those identified exist. That is, given a scenario S with an effect E and some set of causes C {C1, C2, etc.}, S can only be a counterexample to RP if C is an exhaustive collection of all the relevant causal factors and all the causal factors in C, taken together, have less reality than E. But in any particular case, it is always going to be open to question, on the basis of RP itself, the completeness of C; so we'd have to have not just S but a way of ruling out any other causes except those in C. Short of that, we don't have a clear counterexample (or even a clear candidate for a counterexample); we just have something that is a counterexample if RP is false, which doesn't move anything forward.