Friday, September 11, 2020

Non-instrumental pursuits and uncaused causes

Here’s a curious fact: It is one thing to pursue something because it is a non-instrumental good and another to pursue it as a non-instrumental good, or to pursue it non-instrumentally. A rich eccentric might offer me $100 for pursuing some non-instrumental good. I might then do a Google Image search for “great art”, and spend a few seconds contemplating some painting. I would then be pursuing the good of contemplation because it is a non-instrumental good, but not as a non-instrumental good. (What if the eccentric offered to double the payment if I pursued the good non-instrumentally? My best bet would then be to just forget all about the offer and hope I end up pursuing some good non-instrumentally anyway.)

Thinking about the above suggests an important thesis: To pursue a good non-instrumentally is something positive, not merely the denial of instrumentality. Simply cutting out of the world the story about the rich eccentric and keeping my contemplation in place does not make the contemplation be pursued as a non-instrumental good. Rather, such world surgery makes the contemplation non-rational. To make the contemplation a non-instrumental pursuit of a good requires that I add something—a focus on that good in itself. We don’t get non-instrumental pursuit by simply scratching out the instrumentality, just as we don’t get an uncaused cause by just deleting its cause—rather, an uncaused cause is a cause of a different sort, and a non-instrumental pursuit is a pursuit of a different sort.


Wesley C. said...

Regarding the modal cosmological argument or weak PSR, is it possible to rewrite the argument on a a causal basis? Instead of arguing that it is possible that a necessary being exists, and from S5 to the conclusion that a necessary being does exist, we could say:

1) If nothing contingent existed, it would be possibly for something contingent to be caused to exist.
2) Causation is rooted in actuality, so causal potentials specifically inhere in proper actualities.
3) Therefore, the possibility for something to be caused to exist if nothing contingent existed must rest in a prior ontological actuality.

4) So there is a necessary omnipotent causal actuality, since no contingent things exist.

What do you thin of this formulation of the argument? It seems somewhat intuitive - to say that something can be caused to exist if nothing existed easily implies that there is something which roots that possibility.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If I were an atheist, I wouldn't feel much attraction to 1, unless I were convinced that metaphysical possibility was the same as causal possibility.

Wesley C. said...

@Alex, So an atheist would likely accept that it is actually possible for something contingent to be caused to exist if nothing existed, only with the qualification that metaphysical P isn't causal P? In other words, one wouldn't expect a denial of that very possibility - say, because existence seems primitive or otherwise weird such that outright causing the existence of something without anything else presupposed is impossible?

But even in that case, the necessary metaphysical possibility of causation would still seem to require an explanation - in virtue of what is the existence of contingent things causable in the absence of contingent sources? What does it even mean to say that the existence of contingent things is possible to cause if nothing existed?

Keep in mind the causative possibility isn't a vague one where a possible thing could have the ability to create ex nihilo if it existed with that pow - the causative possibility is very specifically in the absence of all contingent factors, and applying to the whole realm of Possibilia, and necessarily so by S5.

Wesley C. said...

It also occurs to me that this could be described instead as a metaphysical causal possibility, not just a purely metaphysical one - since it's not just the existence of something as a metaphysical possibility combined with the idea all possibilities could be causable if God exists, rather it's specifically resting on the intuition that the existence of things IS causable.

And if the existence of things really IS causable, then this seems to entail causal possibility by definition. So the atheist would have to deny the very conceptual possibility that contingent things could be caused to exist if nothing contingent existed in order to avoid grounding that possibility.

Wesley C. said...

@Alex, I have another question which recently came to mind about modal PSR proofs: Instead of arguing the existence of things is possible to cause, could one instead argue that it is POSSIBLE for the existence of things to have an explanation, and from this that there must be a necessary source of intelligibility that accounts for that?

For example, an explanation is by nature always rooted in a prior source of intelligibility, or something is an explanation or explains something if it grounds the intelligibility of something or has an ultimate ground of intelligibility itself - so from the possibility of existence having an explanation it follows there must be something that could BE the explanation, since explanation is grounded in something that is intelligible prior to the thing needing explanation.

And the only thing that could explain the existence of contingent things and be the intelligible source of such an explanation would be a necessary being. So the very possibility of contingent existence having an explanation requires a prior ontological source of intelligibility that can explain it.