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3/11/2016 6:43 am  #1

Infinite regress

Hi to everyone.Yesterday I put a question on Ed Feser's blog,concerning accidentally and essentialy ordered causal series. I argued that an essentially ordered causal series must terminate in a first member,but that first member is not necessarilly what we call the Ultimately Metaphysically First Cause,namely God.Dennis replied and gave me an answer that included nothing new for me.He explained that even an infinite number of moons that pass the light to each other will still require a star that lights one of the moons.Fine.But he still hasn't answered my question.Why do we call the star the ultimately first cause?What if the star is produced by another star which has the power of generating a new star without requiring the persistence of the star that generated it,like in the series of a father who begets a son etc...?Yes,of course,there's no such a star,but the physical details are not important.So,an accidentally causal series is like this:....->x->y->z and this kind of causal series can extend according to Thomists backwards to infinity.An essentially ordered causal series is like this: d->(c->(a->b)).Ok,so this causal chain terminates in d.But what about this causal chain ....->x->y->z->d->(c->(a->b))?What would be wrong with this kind of causal chain?It's a causal chain including an essentially ordered causal series that does not terminate in a first member?PS-sorry for my English.


3/11/2016 7:38 am  #2

Re: Infinite regress

Mikael, I'm sorry if I wasn't clear enough. But here we go again.


This kind of causal series terminates in d, because d is able to account for the power that is passed down to c, a and b, by appealing to its substance-hood and nature.

I'm going to quote myself if you don't mind.

Dennis wrote:

When we talk of infinities and and E-series or an A-series(accidentally ordered), we're talking about metaphysical facts, not physical ones. I think this answers your question, because for St. Thomas Aquinas, it is existence which is of primary importance, where the illustration of the stone moving the stick, the musician playing the flute or the piano, or the star causing the moon to shine is only served to illustrate the point I've made above. 

Since, even if an essentially ordered series is traced back to something which has the property F, underived, such as the stars. It cannot be the case for the star to be there, without deriving its existence from something which possesses in Act and is never potentially in act, but just always is, underived.

I'm going to state something very obvious, so forgive me for that. The argument for the existence of an essentially ordered causal series ≠ the argument for a Prime mover from Motion or Aquinas's proof in De Ente Essentia. The former concerns itself with establishing the notion of an E-Series, the latter concerns establishing the fact that anything that exists, doesn't possesses existence in and of itself, and insofar as it exists, it needs something above and beyond it to make it be.

What we mean by 'ultimately the first cause' in passing, and 'metaphysically ultimate' are different things. We can speak of the star being the first in the case of the moons that pass on the causal power granted by the star. We call it 'first' because the terminus for the power of the light which the moons merely 'pass on' is owed to the substance-hood/aggregate of the star. 

The latter term, 'metaphysically first,' or 'metaphysically ultimate,' seek to say the same thing that has been said of the relationship of the star and the moon, but here, it's with regard to existence, rather than anything else.

​St. Thomas uses the distinctions of an E-Series, and an A-Series to demonstrate the point that everything that exists, must depend on something which has Existence in and of itself, underived.

Thomists will now introduce the distinction between Essence & Existence. They will move on to argue, that if anythings' essence is not existence itself, then its contingency is a matter of its essence being conjoined with existence. Its essence can only be conjoined with existence, insofar there is something that passes down existence to itself. If none of the members in the series {x,y,z,a,b,c} possess existence in and of themselves, but depend on something else other than themselves for their existence, then the causal series must end in something which has Existence in and of itself. And this is what St. Thomas Aquinas called, Ipsum esse subsistens, and we call 'metaphysically ultimate.' God is something like a substance whose essence is Existence Itself, something which cannot be said of things that are contingent, and thus the relationship between God and contingent beings puts the former in a primacy as the latter depend on him for their existence by his conservation.

Now, if you are going to say, "Why can't it be that God can create something with the [power] to exist in and of itself?" You'll beg the question. Though if that is your question, I suppose you'll get better replies from other people here than me.

Does this help?

Last edited by Dennis (3/11/2016 7:41 am)


3/11/2016 8:28 am  #3

Re: Infinite regress

The argument, in a nutshell, is that every member of a per accidens series also stands in a per se series which, given the real distinction between essence and existence, can only terminate in something absolutely simple. In other words, everything stands in a per se causal series. (If it helps, schematize it as every member of a “horizontal” series also standing in a “downward” series.)

I've moved the thread to the philosophy forum, where it's more likely to be seen.


3/11/2016 8:36 am  #4

Re: Infinite regress

Yes,it helps.Thanks.I think I got it.So basically,everything that is a compound of act and potency,of essence and existence,form and matter is dependent upon Pure Act.So in my example d is Pure Act.And to say that somehow d is to be caused by a,or b,or c is like saying "that which cannot be caused is to be caused".My problem is this:I cannot escape the crude images that appear in mind when I think about causality,dependence,or "God causing the Universe".When I read "God is sustaining the world in existence",I imagine something very crude,like a table sustaining a coffee cup.O f course,"sustaining in existence" refers to completely anything else.It refers to something metaphysically,not to something physical that sustains other physical thing.

     Thread Starter

3/11/2016 11:05 am  #5

Re: Infinite regress

I think John clarified it perfectly.Every per accidents series stands in a per esse series.I somwhow imagined that per accidents and per esse are completely different series and that there is no combination.Thanks a lot!

     Thread Starter

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