Friday, January 20, 2023

Partial and complete explanations

  1. Any explanation for an event E that does not go all the way back to something self-explanatory is merely partial.

  2. A partial explanation is one that is a part of a complete explanation.

  3. So, if any event E has an explanation, it has an explanation going all the way back to something self-explanatory. (1,2)

  4. Some event has an explanation.

  5. An explanation going back to something self-explanatory involves the activity of a necessary being.

  6. So, there is an active necessary being. (4,5)

I am not sure I buy (1). But it sounds kind of right to me now. Additionally, (3) kind of sounds correct on its own. If A causes B and B causes C but there is no explanation of A, then it seems that B and C are really unexplained. Aristotle notes that there was a presocratic philosopher who explained why the earth doesn’t fall down by saying that it floats on water, and he notes that the philosopher failed to ask the same question about the water. I think one lesson of Aristotle’s critique is that if it is unexplained why the water doesn’t fall down it is unexplained why the earth falls down.


Walter Van den Acker said...

I have a problem with (2). (2) only follows if a complete explanation is possible, which is kind of what you want to prove. So, it seems to me (2) begs the question.
If the 'water' is a brute fact, 'the earth floats on water' is as far as an explanation can get. In a way it is merely partial but it isn't actually part of something complete because there isn't something complete.
That's why (1) is 'kind of right' but it isn't completely right.

Trevor Giroux said...

Dr Pruss, do you think that Bradley type regresses must also stop in some sort of self explanatory fact? For example instead of having an infinite regress of relations being related to their relata maybe it is somehow self explanatory that the relation is related to its relata?

Alexander R Pruss said...


I don't know why we need to say that the relation is related to the relata. The relation relates the relata.

Trevor Giroux said...

I was thinking of an argument I had seen by Della Rocca where he attempts to show that relations cannot exist and therefore we should accept monism. If I understand it correctly the idea is that relations depend on their relata for their existence and therefore are grounded in one or more of their relata. Then by asking what this grounding relation depends on it would start an infinite regress of relations.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't think one should think of grounding as a real relation.

Trevor Giroux said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trevor Giroux said...

When you say grounding should not be thought of as a real relation do you mean that the way grounding connects things and the way relations connects things are different? Or do you mean that grounded things are not really distinct from their grounds in extra mental reality? I apologize if I am misunderstanding something, it just seems to me that grounding must be a real relation in extra mental reality. For example God seems to ground our existence in some way but we are really related to and therefore really distinct from God. Also substances seem to ground their accidents but are really distinct from and therefore really related to their accidents. But then if grounding is in fact a real relation then the monism argument seems to work.

Alexander R Pruss said...

At least in some cases there seems to be no relation between x and y when x grounds y. For in some cases of where x grounds y, there is nothing to y other than x.

Consider the fact that the moon is round or cubical. This is grounded in the fact that the moon is round. But are there two facts here *and* a relation between them? I doubt it.