E Sustaining Causes

And now a closer look at G6 should show that the kind of dependence at issue in this argument really is not every ordinary thing's dependence on something else for its having come into existence, but rather its dependence on something else for its remaining in existence, for its existing now, for its now becoming a component of the immediate future, which as of right now isn't yet. In some of Aquinas's cosmological arguments he clearly is focusing on generative dependence, as he shows in ST's Second Way when he explains that nothing can cause itself in the respect relevant to that argument, because, in order to do so, it would have to have existed before it began to exist. In G6, although he alludes to generability in order to establish the contingency of ordinary things, the kind of dependence he's concerned with is brought out in his denial of existential inertia and his claim that, consequently, a contingent being's presently existing requires an explanation (lines 4-6): 'if existing is its status, that must be on the basis of some cause' (lines 5-6). Besides, since Aquinas expressly grants the possibility of an end p.101

infinite regress of generating causes, we should, if we can, avoid interpreting his denial of an infinite regress here as if it concerned generating causes. And we can. I will, then, take argument G6 to be concerned not with generating, but with sustaining causes.

The dependence of ordinary contingent things on sustaining causes is beyond dispute. But does series S itself need sustaining? Does it make sense to ask what explains beginningless S's remaining in existence, getting from the present instant into the immediate future? Does it make sense to ask why the world doesn't come to an end right now? Putting question Q2 in the form suggested by Aquinas's line in argument G6, does it make sense to ask what explains S's sempiternality, its beginningless, continuous ongoingness?

Question Q2 applied to series S seems ambiguous as between diachronic and synchronic considerations of S's persistence. The diachronic consideration—What explains S's having for ever had new members?—is addressed in the answers to all the instances of Q1 asked about the generation of the particular doubly dependent beings that are the members of S, and so it doesn't constitute a question to be asked separately about S


24 It is this diachronic consideration that lies behind the extensive, sophisticated medieval discussions de aeternitate mundi— on the possibility of a beginningless universe. (See Ch. Two, n. 35.) Participants in that discussion who, unlike Aquinas, denied the possibility—and that includes most of them—would not have taken this view of the applicability of Q1 to S.

The synchronic consideration—What explains S's going on right now?—is a different question, one that amounts to a genuine application of Q2 to series S. As such, it may seem to require conceiving of S itself as a dependent being.

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