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9/03/2017 6:18 pm  #1

An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

In Feser's new book he presents a take on the Leibnizian argument from contingency. He mentions how even in an infinite series of contingent beings, there would still need to be an explanation for why the infinite series has its specific character--that is one consisting of rocks, dogs, trees, galaxies, stars--instead of a different character. He uses the example from Leibniz of an infinite series of geometry books, each book being a copy of the one prior to it. Even in such a series there would still be the question of why this infinite series of geometry books has the content it does--why geometry? Why a book?

So, in short, the specific character of an infinite series of contingent beings causes us to mount up the chain of causality, seeking a reason beyond the infinite series for said series' being. This is how, to put it tersely, he arrives at God. But couldn't one ask a further question concerning God? Why did God make an infinite series of a specific character? Why this character? Why an infinite series as opposed to a finite one? I suppose we could say that it is merely a part of God's nature to produce a series of this particular character. But then that would leave open this caveat for the critic: it is part of the infinite series' nature to have the specific character it does.


9/03/2017 7:44 pm  #2

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

I am finally back on the forum. But yes, this is an issue, but not for it as a theistic proof. One could do as Leibniz does in positing a moral necessity in God, that given the PSR and God's Wisdom, there is an imperative for God to create this world. Leibniz called this the principle of the best. If the atheist wants to go "aha the series is now necessary" , it is only necessary in a derived sense modally. It is still only made intelligible and can in principle be only made intelligible by an external agent who "weighed" the reasons. I agree modal formulations give it more force, but Leibniz's point (which was half way modal) works on both accounts. Leibniz gave this solution immediately in "On the Ultimate Origin Things" starting that since the objects in and of themselves cannot imply these reasons so if there is a sufficient reason to be found (and Leibniz thinks there must be), it must be found in the First Cause. Of course this leads to a rather awkward conclusion for the theist, that God in a sense "must" have created this world, but I do not see this being as big of an issue as most do (not that I necessarily accept that, I go back and forth on that issue). 

Last edited by Camoden (9/04/2017 2:45 pm)


9/04/2017 11:43 am  #3

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

Well I could imagine that appealing to the principle of the best to ultimately stop the regress--to give a reason for why God creates this specific world--would clash with the Christian understanding of God choosing to create this world out of a free act of love. I could also see a critic attacking the idea that this world is the most perfect world.Though I'm not sure he could ever prove that this isnt the most perfect world because of his finite epistemic view of the cosmos.

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9/04/2017 12:09 pm  #4

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

Yeah. Leibniz's position is certainly quite odd, but there are plenty of possible ways to ground it. A way Augustine did was based around the numbers of the Angels and saved humans, and the types of ways they were saved. Even still, a posteriori if the argument works and you think there is no other way to ground it than accepting this principle, it necessarily follows. However, as a Christian as well, I don't think this makes the act unfree. It would still flow from God's beatitude within the Godhead, and would simply be based around God's wisdom. As a non Catholic I am not committed to the catechism, but I don't think the catechism doesn't allow that view. See Katherin Roger's essay, which I can't hyperlink right now for some reason.

Last edited by Camoden (9/04/2017 12:12 pm)


9/04/2017 12:21 pm  #5

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

Again, at this point I don't endorse Leibniz's view, but once one get's past the possible world issue, it isn't totally implausible. The real issue I have with it is the incommensurability objection. I don't think strict omnipotence is challenged, nor are possible world semantics effected, because these are still real active potencies with essences that really resemble God.


9/04/2017 1:52 pm  #6

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

I suppose if one views a free action as one which isn't caused by any external agent, then God choosing the most perfect world to create because of his omnipotence and omniscience (his nature) could be considered a free action. I think Leibniz's argument from contingency works, it's just that I'm having difficulty understanding the end of the regress, the ground of sufficient reason. Because if the First Cause is limited in any way, if there is any specificity about it, then it is no longer simple, and we could easily ask "why is it as it is?" or "why does the first cause act in this specific way?"

Now my first thought was perhaps it's just in God's nature to create this world--that is, it's in God's nature to act in this specific way. Unfortunately, this answer to the problem makes it seem like God's nature is just that which arbitrarily chooses to create this world. But if we admit this then we could equally admit that perhaps it's just in the universe's nature to be arbitrarily the way it is, therefore showing no need for a transcendent First Cause. And, to me, at least, this wreaks of brute facticity. 

You offered Leibniz's solution of the best principle--that is, this world isn't just arbitrarily picked out of the countless other worlds God could create, rather, it is the perfect world, the best world, and God, given
 his nature, must create it. That is, because God is omniscient he knows the best possible world, and because he is omnipotent he could make the best possible world. And God, being perfect, would make the best possible world if he could. Therefore, to say that he didn't make the best possible world would imply that he either didn't know what the best possible world was (not omniscient) and/or he couldn't make the best possible world (not omnipotent).

I found an objection to this view in Dr. Feser's book--the objection is based on the old scholastic axiom that action follows being. Dr. Feser objects that the principle of the best assumes that God's perfection depends on what he does. But, Feser claims, this is wrong--God's perfection follows from what he is, which is pure actuality, completely simple, and everything this entails. He uses the analogy of a perfect diamond which would still be a perfect diamond regardless of whether or not it ever cuts any glass. The diamond has the capacity to perfectly cut glass, regardless of whether or not it will ever cut glass. In the same way, God has the capacity to make any number of possible worlds, but this doesn't entail that he must exercise said capacity in any way. So, in the end, whether God creates any type of world is irrelevant to his status as Most Perfect. 

But if this objection is correct then we would still ask this question: why did God create this world? If we say he just arbitrarily creates this world, then we would, in effect, be admitting that all of contingent reality rests on no particular reason at all for its being. 

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9/04/2017 2:08 pm  #7

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

That is Leibniz's view to a degree, but I do not think you have to draw out Leibniz's conclusion, that willing this world necessarily works as a metric God needs to pass. I do not think it would make God anymore Good (which Leibniz disagreed with), no matter what world He makes, because His perfection is ultimately found in the Trinity, this constituting His Life. So I still think the principle is salvageable, one just need not draw out an obligation based on this.


9/04/2017 2:27 pm  #8

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

But if God has no obligation to create this world as opposed to other possible worlds, then why did he pick this world? Was it arbitrary (no particular reason)? Was he compelled to by an external cause (meaning he would not truly be the First Cause)? Was it just in his nature to create this world as opposed to the infinite other possibilities (admitting a sort of brute fact, something that could be easily applied to just the cosmos' nature itself)? 

Last edited by RomanJoe (9/04/2017 2:28 pm)

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9/04/2017 2:40 pm  #9

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

I do not see why having no obligation to do something makes something a brute fact. For example it could be that I have two options, say an apple and a orange and I am by nature inclined to offer you the apple rather than the orange. I am under no obligation to give you the apple over the orange (at least morally), and yet it would still be self sourced and explained. Likewise God is under no moral obligations to fulfill His Nature in creating this world (because God is already Pure Act), and yet His Wisdom would dictate that A. It is better to create and B. This world is the best possible world to spread His Eternal Glory. His Nature is not arbitrary however, it is completely intelligible and Ase, which the universe is not. He quite plausibly chose this world because it was the best possible world, which given His Wisdom He would see, and yet His moral status would be unaffected either way. No external standard compelled Him to create, just His Knowledge of His Own Goodness. But since God is His Goodness, which is His essence, this is explained by God's identity and the internal PSR. The universe does not have this luxury however, as it is essentially filled by composites that are not self explained, as the series can only find it's intelligibility from the outside. 

Last edited by Camoden (9/04/2017 2:48 pm)


9/04/2017 5:33 pm  #10

Re: An Objection to Feser's Rationalist Proof

I now have Feser's book so I will be able to respond more thoroughly.


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