An objection causing the causing

While the van Inwagen objection applies specifically to the PSR, there is a related objection to CPs. Suppose that our CP applies to all wholly contingent, concrete, contingent states of affairs. Suppose that state of affairs C causes state of affairs E. It may be that C is necessary (e.g. C might be God's existing and having such and such values), and thus one cannot get a regress by asking for C's cause, but there is a different move available. We can form a third state of affairs, the state of affairs Q of C's causing E, and then can ask what causes Q. It seems plausible that if C is wholly contingent, then so is Q. The object in asking this question is to generate a vicious regress. Once we gave the cause of Q, we would form the state of affairs of that cause's causing C and so on.

19. This is similar to the coat thief example cited in Edgington (1995).

This problem looks formidable, but the real difficulty lies in choosing from the abundance of possible solutions. For instance, the literature contains Koons's solution (Koons 1997) on which C1 is not a further state of affairs. Instead, C1 consists simply in the mereo-logical sum of C and E. Or one might argue that C1 is only partly contingent, since in the case that interests us C is necessary and in some way enters into C1, and its wholly contingent part C1* might not actually be distinct from E. Further, the scholastics apparently liked to say that the actuality of the cause qua cause is the effect. A good translation of "the actuality of the cause qua cause" may be "the cause's causing," so if they are right, then the cause's causing may not actually be distinct from E.

A different solution is to allow for a regress but to claim that it is not vicious. Not all regresses are vicious. If p is true, then it is true that p is true and so on. There does not appear to be any philosophical consensus on which regresses are vicious. A plausible suggestion is that regresses are vicious if they involve a dependence, whether explanatory, causal, or grounding. Thus, we should reject a theory of truth on which what makes a proposition true is that it is true that it is true, for then the truth regress would be a grounding regress. But as long one does not take such a theory of truth, the truth regress is not vicious.

Now, one might think that the causal regress here is an objectionable causal or explanatory dependence regress. Why did E happen? Because of C. But why did C cause E? Because of C1. But why did C1 cause C's causing E? Because of C2. And so on. But it is mistaken to think that viciousness always occurs. The following seems a coherent account. Ex hypothesi, the cause of E is C. In particular, the cause of E is not C's causing E, at least not if that is an event distinct from C (and if it is not an event distinct from C, the problem disappears). In the process from C to E, C's causing E transpires. It is not the case that C's causing E is more ultimate causally than C. In fact, one might reasonably say that C causes C's causing E, and C causes C's causing C's causing E, and so on. These epi-events are not a part of the causal explanation of E, however.

Granted, we may sometimes explain that E happened not just because of C but because of C's causing E. We might, however, question whether this is always a perspicacious expression of the explanation - recall the fact that we do not say that "He died because he died of being stabbed" (see Section 2.3.2.2, above).

Given that the question is most interesting in the ultimate case of causation by a First Cause, and that the cosmological arguer thinks the ultimate case of causation is a case of agency, it might be good to consider how, on one interpretation of the phrase "C's causing E," this looks for agency. Suppose that x does A on account of reason R. Then the cause of A is x-who-appreciates-R, or maybe x's appreciating R. We can now ask why it is that R was what moved x, or why it is that x who appreciates R does A. After all, x may well also appreciate other reasons, reasons in favor of some other action, say B. We might ask why R is the reason that in fact moves x, and one way of putting this question is to ask for the cause of x-who-appreciates-R's causing A.

This is at least sometimes a substantive question to which a substantive answer is possible. Jones joined the Antarctic expedition because he appreciated the value of scientific discovery. But why was it that his appreciation of the value of scientific discovery moved him to join the Antarctic expedition, when instead his appreciation of the value of a congenial climate might have moved him to stay in Kansas? Perhaps it was because of a higher-order reason. Maybe he judges warmth to be a private bodily good and scientific discovery to be a nonprivate intellectual good, and he appreciates the value of sacrificing private bodily goods to nonprivate intellectual ones. In that case, there is a substantive answer to the substantive question: the value of scientific discovery moved him to join the Antarctic expedition because of his appreciation of sacrificing primitive bodily goods to nonprivate intellectual ones. And, of course, there might be a further question about why the second-order reason moved Jones.

But it is clear that such explanation will have to come to an end. We do not in fact have an infinite chain of reasons for every action, finite creatures as we are. And in fact, it is plausible that sometimes x does A for R, and there is no further answer to the question why it was that x did A for R, why it was that x-who-appreciated-R did A, beyond the fact that x appreciated R. Kant's ideal of being moved by the respect for duty provides an example of this. Why it is that Kenya, a perfect Kantian agent, kept her promise? It is because of her respect for duty. And why was Kenya moved by her respect for duty? Because her respect for duty requires of her that she be moved by reasons of duty. This sounds circular, but in fact we can see it as a case where respect for duty not only moves the Kantian to keep her promise but also to keep her promise out of respect for duty. This would be a case like the one I suggested earlier, where C causes C's causing E: respect for duty causes her respect of duty to be the cause of her action. No vicious regress ensues here, since there is nothing further to explain about why respect for duty moved Kenya beyond her respect for duty. Respect for duty causes her respect of duty to be the cause of her concretely action, precisely in and through respect causing that action in the absence of other causes.

Nor is Kantianism the only kind of case where this happens. Suppose George does something out of love for his child. It seems quite plausible that not only is love moving him to benefit the child but also love is moving him to benefit the child out of love. So cases of agency can, plausibly, have a structure that evades the Regress Problem.

There is a final answer to our Regress Problem, which I think is the best, and it is to identify C's causing E with C's causal activity. Now, in some cases, we can ask for a further cause of C's causal activity - we can ask what moved the mover. But what if C's causal activity is a necessary being? Then C's causal activity does not itself fall within the purview of the CP. Those who accept divine simplicity, with its contention that God is God's activity, will likely accept this; if God is simple and a necessary being, his activity must itself be necessary, being identical with him.

One might say that this cannot be right, at least not in the case closest to the cosmo-logical arguer's heart, the case of God's causing this universe. For if God's causal activity is necessary, then God's causing this universe is necessary, and hence this universe is a necessary being, which is absurd, besides being contrary to the assumptions of typical cosmological arguments. But this objection commits a de re/de dicto fallacy. Consider the argument written out:

(45) Ci is God's causal activity and is a necessary being. (Premise)

(47) Therefore, God's causing E is a necessary being.

(48) Therefore, God necessarily causes E.

The fallacy is in the last step, which has essentially the following logical form:

(49) The F is a necessary being.

(50) Therefore, necessarily, the F exists.

But this is fallacious if "the F" in (50) is read de dicto, as it must be in the case where F is "God's causing E." The number of eyes of the tallest person is, let us suppose, the number two and, let us also suppose, that the number two is a necessary Platonic being. But it is incorrect to conclude that, necessarily, the number of eyes of the tallest person exists, since that would entail the falsehood that necessarily there is a tallest person (it could be that no person has a height or that there is a tie).

The inference from (49) to (50) requires that Fness be an essential property of the F. It is not an essential property of the number two that it be the number of eyes of the tallest person, and hence the inference fails in that case. Similarly, in the God case, the argument is only going to work if it is an essential property of God's activity that it be the same as God's causing E. But this proponents of divine simplicity should deny. They should instead insist that the same activity would count as God's causing E in those worlds where God causes E and as God's causing F in those worlds where God causes F. A very imperfect analogy for this is that the same act of writing down a sequence of numbers is, in some worlds, the filling out of a winning lottery ticket and in others the filling out of a losing lottery ticket. The reason for the imperfection in the example is that in the lottery case, it does not depend on the act which lottery tickets are drawn, but everything, in some way, depends on God's act. But it should be no surprise if there is no close analogue to doctrines coming from divine simplicity.

The reason for the multitude of responses to the objection is that it is just not clear what "C's causing E" picks out. It might pick out the mereological sum of C and E. It might pick out E. It might pick out something causally posterior to C. To some extent the details will depend on fine details in the theory of causation, and to some extent it may simply be a matter of choosing what one means by the ambiguous phrase "C's causing E."

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