F Ss Instantaneous Synchronic Present Phase

Well, is series S a dependency existent thing in the sense of requiring a sustaining cause? Is it a thing at all? Since S's existence is successive, since there is no time at which all its members exist together, we might feel

uncomfortable about regarding S as a thing in its own right.

25 This sort of question has been admirably dealt with in Rowe's analysis and appraisal of the metaphysical status of a beginningless causal series in Rowe 1975a, and esp. 1975c, and my discussion here owes something to his. In private correspondence (1993) Bernard Katz has suggested to me that, despite Rowe's worries on this score, there is no particular difficulty associated with treating the exhaustive collection of dependent beings as an object. I'm inclined to share Katz's view: '[I]t is quite plausible to regard the universe as a mereological sum of . . . the dependent beings that make up or made up the natural universe. ... In fact, it seems to me that is exactly what the universe is, the mereological sum of all the things that make it up. (What else could it be? Surely not something set-theoretic?) Moreover, it would be quite reasonable to suppose that the mereological sum of dependent beings would itself be a dependent being. But what about your objection that there is no time at which all of S's members exist together? . . . [W]e can raise the very same question about things that we clearly do regard as concrete objects but which also seem to lose and gain parts: for example, an automobile or, for that matter, any persisting physical object. . . . So, I don't think that the observation that S's existence is successive, or that there is no time at which all its members exist together, is a good reason for concluding that S cannot be construed as a concrete being.'

I don't think worries of this sort are justified, but end p.102


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved the issue doesn't have to be settled here. In asking about the explanation of S's going on right now, we're asking about the explanation of S's now having any members, rather than none at all. And so in this case we're asking not for an explanation of S as a beginningless diachronic whole, but rather for an explanation of its instantaneous, synchronic, present phase, which I'll label Sn. Unlike S itself, Sn is not at all successive; all of Sn's members exist at once. And since each of Sn's members is, by hypothesis, a being that depends for its existing on the present operation of sustaining causes, the explanation of Sn can be construed as simply the sum of all the explanations of the existing of the dependent beings that are Sn's members. If such a construal makes sense, then the sum of all those particular explanations would explain S's now having not merely any elements at all, but even the very elements it now has.

Such an explanation of S's going on right now in terms of explaining Sn would be enormously more complex than is needed for purposes of argument G6. And, besides, it may seem that all those particular explanations are too disparate to be summed into an explanation of Sn. After all, beings that depend on other beings for their existing have very different necessary conditions. Your presently existing needs the earth's atmosphere as part of its explanation; a mountain's or a star's presently existing doesn't. But Sn converges when traced up its chain of sustaining causes as S converges when traced backwards in time. Moving up several levels in the explanation of your continuing to exist, the existing of the earth's atmosphere requires earth's gravity, and so does the mountain's continuing to exist—though not the star's. And, moving up many more levels of explanation all at once, the continuing existence of earth's gravity and of the star and of every other dependent end p.103


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved being '[w]e see ... in the world' has the continuing existence (or obtaining) of natural laws as a necessary condition. For my immediate purposes, I can pause there, at the level of explanation at which a general reference to natural laws is the most (or the only) appropriate move to make. And, naturally, part of any generally correct answer to the question of what keeps the world going will have to be that natural laws continue to obtain. (By 'natural laws' here, I mean nature's actual governing regularities, of course, not anybody's up-to-the-minute codified best estimate of what those regularities might be.)

So I maintain that Q2 does apply to S in virtue of applying to Sn, and that Q2 applies to Sn in virtue of applying to each of Sn's members in such a way as to lead, through repeated applications, to an identifiable single condition necessary for S's going on right now: the persisting efficacy of natural laws. I am definitely not maintaining that the persistence of natural laws needs no explaining. At this point I want only to claim that although (in lines 6-7 of argument G6) Aquinas issues his denial of the theoretical possibility of going on ad infinitum only as regards applying Q2 to the existing of a particular observable dependent being, the denial can and should be construed as applying also to explaining S's presently continuing. But how, exactly?

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