Saturday, February 6, 2016

A puzzle about being and being-caused

These claims are really plausible:

  1. I exist because I was caused by my parents.
  2. My having been caused by my parents is a fact about me.
  3. My existence is explanatorily prior to all other facts about me.
  4. There are no loops of explanatory priority.
But they seem to be contradictory. My being caused by my parents is explanatorily prior to my existence, but my existence is explanatorily prior to that, and that surely looks like a loop.

But actually there is no contradiction. To get the claim that my existence is explanatorily prior to my being caused out of (3), we need to add the premise that my being caused is a different fact about me from my existing. But why add a premise that makes for a contradiction? We should instead conclude that the fact of my existence is the same fact as my being caused by my parents.

But if it's the same fact, then we have an interesting ontological conclusion: My existing is my being caused by my parents (and presumably by all the other causes cooperating with them, including especially God). I've argued for something like this conclusion here, but this is a much neater argument.

There may be another corollary. It seems that my esse, my existence, is modally essential to me--I couldn't exist with a different esse. But if my esse is my being caused by my parents, then I couldn't have had other parents.

Objection 1: We should restrict (3) to facts about the present time. But my having been caused by my parents isn't like that.

Response: Run the argument in the first moment of my existence (assuming there is one; if not, run it for some creature which has a first moment of existence; presumably if the ontological thesis I am arguing for is true for some creature, it's true for them all).

Objection 2: If my existing is the same as my being caused by my parents, how can (1) be true: isn't (1), then, a claim that I exist because I exist?

Response: Even if the fact (or state of affairs or event--there are multiple ways to formulate the argument) of my existence is the same as the fact of my being caused by my parents, the proposition that I exist is not the same as the proposition that I am caused by my parents.


Tom DePietro said...

I don't know if you intended this to be relevant, but it seems that if you are correct, this can do some work in helping with divine simplicity.

Here is my reasoning:
If I understand you correctly (?) you are saying that X's existence is the same as X's being caused by the particular causes in question. Now, if that is the case, then ultimately, all of contingent reality (C)'s existence is identical to it being caused by God. But assuming God is distinct from that contingent reality, which He is if God is understood as a necessary being, then it follows that God is distinct from His causing C. This means that God would have been no different had He caused (created) something different.

One may object and say even though God's causing C is distinct from God, it is "in" God in some way. But that won't work here either because if what you say (on my understanding) is correct, then as long as C is not in God (a part of him or whatever) then neither is God's causing C.

I understand that you and others (e.g. Brower, Grant) have argued similarly about God's causing before. But I just thought I'd point out that your considerations in this blog post bolster that argument by giving credence to the view that X's being caused and X's existence are the same

Any thoughts?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I like that!