• Philarete
    8
    Hi all,

    Della Rocca (2014) evokes an argument from the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) to the existence of a self-explainer. Here's the argument (my reconstruction):

    Assume PSR : every fact has a metaphysical explanation. If to possess a metaphysical explanation is to be grounded by one or several fact(s), then the PSR seems to commit us to the view that there only exists grounded facts. But now, consider the entire series of grounded facts. PSR implies that the fact that this series exists must have an explanation. But then, what is the reason for this series' existence ? Is it grounded in something else or not ? In other words : is the series explained by something other than itself, or is it self-explanatory ?

    Supposing that the series is grounded/explained by something other than itself leads to contradiction. Indeed, this series is the entire series of grounded facts. If the existence of the series were a fact grounded by something else, this very fact should be part of the series. But this would imply that the series is grounded in itself, contra the initial assumption. Therefore, the series cannot be explained by something other than itself. It is thus self-explaining.

    This argument, as I see it, could be represented as :

    (P1) Every fact has an explanation (PSR)
    (P2) There exists a series S of all grounded facts
    (C1) The fact that S exists must have an explanation (P1, P2)
    (P3) Either S is explained by something else than itself, either it is self-explanatory
    (P4) S cannot be explained by something else than itself
    (C2) Therefore, S is self-explanatory (C1, P3, P4)


    This argument, clearly, mirrors the structure of cosmological arguments based on the PSR. Now, my question is the following : how would you attack this argument, in a way other than denying (P2), i.e. that there exists a series of all grounded facts ? I am generally in agreement with (P2) but am very reluctant to admit the existence of self-explanatory facts. How would you work your way around this ?

    Thanks in advance for your help
    Philarete
  • Posty McPostface
    5.8k
    Are self-explanatory facts the same thing as brute facts, and if not how do they differ? Just clarifying some terminology that I'm and possibly others are accustomed to.
  • Philarete
    8
    I think that the answer is no, in this particular case : a brute fact is a fact which isn't grounded (explained) by anything at all, even itself. A self-explanatory fact is grounded and explained by itself, hence it is not brute. A self-explanatory fact implies to drop the irreflexivity of grounding and explanation; while a brute fact doesn't.
  • Posty McPostface
    5.8k
    Could you explain what do you mean by "self-explanatory"? I'm not sure about their ontological status wrt. to brute facts, if that makes any sense. Meaning, that you could have P2 negated by having P1 dependant on brute facts (or appealing to brute facts in general) and still maintain consistency of being self-explanatory since brute facts are of greater ontological significance than self-explanatory facts while remaining grounded in reason?
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    I know you said not to attack P2, but there's a way to do it which I think might be really interesting, which is to question whether or not S can really constitute a totality. I'm borrowing here from Meillassoux's 'argument from power sets' in his After Finitude, but the idea is that for every set of facts S, we can always generate another, additional fact by taking the power set of S (the set of all subsets of S), which will always yield a set S' with more elements than our original set S: that is, it will always contain one additional fact not contained in our original set of facts S. This procedure can be repeated to generate sets of ever increasing cardinality (set size) so that from S' you can generate S", and from S'', S''' and so on ad infinitum.

    What this allows you to do is question the hard and fast distinction in (P3) between S and something other than S, insofar S cannot be understood to be a self-contained totality in the first place: with S alone, one can generate something other than S. This line of attack doesn't so much deny that S can or cannot be self-explanatory, so much as put into question what it might even mean for something to be self-explanatory (or, alternatively, be 'explained by something else'). It frames the whole exercise as a kind of paralogism in Kant's sense, an attempt to deal with a whole that cannot in fact be made whole to begin with.

    I think what this opens up is the question of what even constitutes a fact, and necessitates a look into the means by which facts are individuated, but that's probably a bit much to deal with here.
  • Posty McPostface
    5.8k


    Then epistemic/ontological closure, then is a fictitious concept?
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    Can you set out your reasoning? I don't want to have to guess at it, especially because I'm not super familiar with that whole debate.
  • Posty McPostface
    5.8k
    Can you set out your reasoning?StreetlightX

    Epistemic closure consists in entailment. If entailment cannot be achieved by negation of totality in your previous awesome post, then epistemic closure fails?
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    If entailment cannot be achieved by negation of totalityPosty McPostface

    I'm still not sure what this means.
  • Posty McPostface
    5.8k
    I'm still not sure what this means.StreetlightX

    Sorry, I'll think about it and get back later. Don't want to deviate from the topic question.

    Thanks!
  • MindForged
    513
    I think he's saying that if you cannot ever close one's set of beliefs under logical entailment because you're saying you could always yield new facts by taking the power set of the set of facts, doesn't epistemic closure fail? (sounds correct to me). After all, the facts are constantly increasing so even if I know that X is the case, since the facts can always increase I cannot say I can always determine that X implies Y is the case.

    P.S. I like Meillassoux's work. I'm not very fond of the PSR as a metaphysical principle.
  • Dfpolis
    475
    Whatever explains something explains it in light what it is -- it is the kind of thing that can effect what needs an explanation. So, if something is to be self-explaining, what it is must entail that it is.

    What can this mean? Following Plato's hint in the Sophist, we can say that anything that can act in any way exists. This makes existence convertible with the unspecified ability to act. Correlatively, what a thing is (its essence) can be explicated as the specification of its possible acts.

    So, for what something is (its essence), to explain that it is (its existence) requires that the specification of its possible acts entails the unspecified ability to act. In other words, what it is can place no limitations on its capacity to act. Thus, it must be able to do any logically possible act (be omnipotent).
  • SophistiCat
    551
    Now, my question is the following : how would you attack this argument, in a way other than denying (P2), i.e. that there exists a series of all grounded facts ?Philarete

    Would you consider just dropping the PSR? It's difficult for me to see what the attraction of an unrestricted PSR is, Della Rocca's arguments notwithstanding.
  • Dfpolis
    475
    It's difficult for me to see what the attraction of an unrestricted PSR isSophistiCat

    Logical consistency. How can something essentially inadequate to a task perform the task?
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    Surely PSR is about completeness, not consistency. Removing axioms from a consistent system cannot make it inconsistent. So if a system including PSR as an axiom is consistent then so too will the system obtained by removing PSR.

    But if completeness is what was meant, we hit a block there too, since Godel showed that any system worth bothering with is incomplete.
  • SophistiCat
    551
    How can something essentially inadequate to a task perform the task?Dfpolis

    Explain, please.
  • Dfpolis
    475
    What we know about reality is not a closed, axiomatic system. One may formulate some subset of what we know into an axiomatic system, but reality is always ready to surprise us, violating our expectations with unpredictable information. Thus, the PSR is not an axiom of a formal system, but an observation about the nature of contingent reality.
  • Dfpolis
    475
    How can something essentially inadequate to a task perform the task? — Dfpolis

    Explain, please.
    SophistiCat

    Of course. The PSR is an observation about the nature of contingent reality -- not an arbitrary posit.

    We see that changes happen. We ask how can this be? Parmenides argued:
    Every change requires the emergence of something new. Either this new reality comes from something or it comes from nothing. It cannot come from nothing because from nothing, nothing comes. But, nether can it come from something, for if it did it would already exist and so not be new. Since the new aspect can neither come from nothing nor from something, change is impossible.

    Aristotle explained Parmenides error by observing that just because a new aspect comes from something does not mean that it actually preexists the change. It can be potential, rather than actual, in what it comes from. So, our experience of change implies the reality of potential existence -- not as a mere logical possibility, but as the foundation in reality for what is actualized in change.

    What has this to do with the PSR? While what is potential is real, it is not yet actual (not yet operational). As the actualization of a potential is an operation, no potential can actualize itself because it is not yet operational. So, it must be actualized by something already operational/actual, its concurrent cause. (Concurrent because it has to operate at the time and place the potential is made actual.) So, every potency that is actualized is actualized by a concurrent ("essential") cause.

    (Note that essential causes, which act concurrently, are not the kind of causes soundly criticized by Hume and inadequately discussed by Kant. That kind of cause is known as an "accidental cause" and is time-sequence by rule. Essential causality differs by occurring in a single event (the actualization of a potential), while accidental causality links two successive events.)

    We have now established the necessity for an operative agent (essential cause) in the actualization of any potency. All the PSR says is that this agent must be sufficient or adequate to the task of actualization. This adds nothing to the analysis. It merely makes explicit what was implicit, for the claim that an agent inadequate to actualizing a potential actualizes that potential is an oxymoron.
  • tim wood
    1.3k
    No definition of "fact"? It seems to me much or all of this thread results from that lack of clarity. Anyone care to offer such a definition? Here's mine: a fact is a description of something, which description is deemed highly accurate under some set of criteria. In other words, a fact is or is reducible to a text. Discussion about facts is discussion about descriptions, or texts. This isn't too much of a problem in many circumstances, but it can be in some, especially where the effort is made to make the world work like a text, or the distinction between the two is lost.

    I think scientists used to have that problem, but not so much any more (maybe since Bacon's comment about putting nature to the question). Philosophers always have, and still do.

    It's not clear to me that there is any escape from facts. To the argument that the facts are the things themselves, there arises the problem of just how, exactly, one comes to understand what the fact is. Again, not a problem most of the time....
  • Dfpolis
    475
    It seems to me that "fact" has two senses. One is an intelligible state of affairs. The other is a known intelligible state of affairs. That a known fact can often be expressed in text is incidental. A person who cannot speak or write can know a fact. Alternately, a fact might be so novel that there are as yet no words to express it. (Still, one might be able to indicate it in some non-verbal way, such as pointing.)

    To the argument that the facts are the things themselves, there arises the problem of just how, exactly, one comes to understand what the fact is.tim wood

    I don't think this is an argument so much as a definition. If we define a "fact" as an intelligible state of affairs, that does not imply that we have access to the fact. When we do have access, we come to know the state of affairs because it acts on us, typically via our senses.
  • tim wood
    1.3k
    It seems to me that "fact" has two senses. One is an intelligible state of affairs. The other is a known intelligible state of affairs. That a known fact can often be expressed in text is incidental. A person who cannot speak or write can know a fact. Alternately, a fact might be so novel that there are as yet no words to express it. (Still, one might be able to indicate it in some non-verbal way, such as pointing.)Dfpolis

    Intelligible state of affairs (ISA): is this just a fact by another name? And we have ISAs and "known" ISAs? Is there a difference between them beyond the implication that mere ISAs are, apparently, not known? Just what is an unknown ISA (or fact)? "Intelligible" itself is a problem, here: what does it mean? It appears to beg-the-question as to what a fact is. As to texts, I offered that facts are, or are reducible, to texts. Nor did I mean "text" in the narrow sense you seem to have taken it to mean. Broadly, what I mean is you've either got the thing itself, or a representation of the thing. I'm calling the representation a text, i.e., that it is not the thing itself, but represents it. As to having the thing itself, I don't think that's possible. In this sense I'm calling perception a text.

    Usually this distinction isn't worth the candle, mainly because it's understood. Pushing this "understanding" sends everyone down the rabbit hole of what knowledge is and how it works. I think the rule governing here in this use of facts is, by the relevant standards, do they work - an informal and practical usage.

    But the OP is about a particular class of facts (actually, because "facts" is undefined, I don't really have any idea what the OP is about). That is, it matters how "fact" is defined. I offered above that a fact is a description, and that influences how the arguments wrt to the OP might proceed. I think you've excepted my qualification, but without addressing it - or you have and I missed it.

    Why not start here: you indorse my definition of fact-as-text, or you offer a better one. If, for example, you wish the fact to be that the red book is on the table, I'll ask you to demonstrate exactly how you get from, "The red book is on the table," to, the red book is on the table, and vice versa. Or, same question, how you know the red book is on the table. Again, the question is not how you know as a practical matter, because that is not any issue of mine. Rather it is how the fact-as-text can become the fact itself.

    The point of this is that in talking about facts, one has to distinguish between the thing described and the text wherein the description is homed. Confusing the two makes for confusion and bad philosophy.
  • Dfpolis
    475
    Intelligible state of affairs (ISA): is this just a fact by another name? And we have ISAs and "known" ISAs? Is there a difference between them beyond the implication that mere ISAs are, apparently, not known? Just what is an unknown ISA (or fact)?tim wood

    I do not see these questions as doing more than rephrasing what I said in interrogatory form. I suggested definitions and do not intend to engage in anargumentum in circulo. It is reasonable to object to definitions by giving counter-examples or by saying why you find this or that defining term to be problematic. These questions do neither.

    "Intelligible" itself is a problem, here: what does it mean?tim wood

    "Intelligible" means capable of informing an intellect. An intellect is informed when what is logically possible to it is reduced.

    It appears to beg-the-question as to what a fact is.tim wood

    I see no such appearance. If you would care to argue you claim, I will consider your objection.

    Nor did I mean "text" in the narrow sense you seem to have taken it to mean. Broadly, what I mean is you've either got the thing itself, or a representation of the thing.tim wood

    To my mind, "texts," broadly speaking, are conventional instrumental signs. The do not include concepts, unexpressed judgement and other instruments of thought which are neither conventional nor instrumental signs, but formal signs. If you wish to include unexpressed judgements, how would you distinguish them from known states of affairs?

    In this sense I'm calling perception a text.tim wood

    You may use terms as you wish. Most people would not call perceptions "texts," so this choice of terms is bound to lead to confusion -- as you can see from my post.

    I'm calling the representation a text, i.e., that it is not the thing itself, but represents it.tim wood

    I would say that perceptions are not re-presentations, but presentations. The make the object dynamically present to us -- not the whole object, but the object as acting on us. My sensory "representation" of an object is identically the object's modification of my sensory system. It belongs jointly to the object (as its radiance of action) and to me as my sensory representation. It is the object dynamically penetrating my being. So, in a sensory presentation I have the object itself -- not in its entirety, but in an informative projection of itself. The object informing me is identically me being informed by the object.

    That is, it matters how "fact" is defined. I offered above that a fact is a description, and that influences how the arguments wrt to the OP might proceed.tim wood

    This leaves out one of the most common uses of "facts" -- that in which we seek to find the (currently unknown) "facts." If facts do not exist without an actual description, no unknown "facts" are possible and seeking them is an exercise in futility. On the other hand, by my definition, intelligible states of affairs count as facts that can be discovered.

    I'll ask you to demonstrate exactly how you get from, "The red book is on the table," to, the red book is on the table, and vice versa. Or, same question, how you know the red book is on the table.tim wood

    One could write a whole book on this, but the outline is simple enough. The environment acts on me via my senses -- informing them in specific ways. Various objects have specific acts that they are capable of and others that they are incapable of. When I turn my attention to my sensory contents, I can focus on specific aspects -- becoming aware of them. If some subset of sensory contents (an object presentation) evokes the concept <book>, I can class the object as a book. If the same object presentation evokes the concept <red>, I can judge <The book is red>. I can do the same with tables, positional concepts and so on. I can keep all of this information to myself, or I can express it in a conventional way, saying or writing "There is a red book on the table."

    Going the other way, after making out the letters and reading the text, the sentence evokes certain concepts and relations between them, so that I can, if I wish, imagine a red book on a table.

    Rather it is how the fact-as-text can become the fact itselftim wood

    The fact as text never becomes the state of affairs the text describes unless I am an artisan. All it can do is evoke evoke an intellectual or imagined representation of the state of affairs described. If I am an artisan, I might be able to make an object with the specified features. Still, even if I am an artisan and make a specified object, the object I make was not a fact when I received the specification.

    The point of this is that in talking about facts, one has to distinguish between the thing described and the text wherein the description is homed. Confusing the two makes for confusion and bad philosophy.tim wood

    Of course. That is why I started my post by saying "It seems to me that 'fact' has two senses."
  • SophistiCat
    551
    OK, I see now that your position is deeply embedded in Aristotelian metaphysics, which holds no attraction for me. Thanks for taking the trouble to explain it though.
  • Dfpolis
    475
    To me the attraction of Aristotelian metaphysics is its conformability to the data of experience -- whether that be sensory, subjective or mystical..
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    If the comment was not made in the context of a formal system, what was the meaning of the statement that the world would be inconsistent without an unrestricted PSR, as per the quote below?
    Logical consistencyDfpolis
  • Dfpolis
    475
    Reflections on the world are open to new experiences. Formal systems, which I take to be systems with fixed axioms, are not. The PSR is a insight for reflecting on open systems -- ones which are experience-driven, not a priori.
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    I don't disagree, but I still can't see any support for the idea that a view of the world that does not incorporate an unrestricted PSR would be logically inconsistent.
  • Dfpolis
    475
    I don't disagree, but I still can't see any support for the idea that a view of the world that does not incorporate an unrestricted PSR would be logically inconsistentandrewk

    It is not inconsistent in se or with principles of logic. It is inconsistent with the metaphysically certain proposition "Nothing can act that is not operational" taken together with the meaning of terms like "potential" and "sufficient."
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    Nothing can act that is not operational
    I am not familiar with that proposition. What does it mean? And why do you feel the absence of an unrestricted PSR is inconsistent with it?
  • Dfpolis
    475
    Nothing can act that is not operational

    I am not familiar with that proposition. What does it mean?
    andrewk

    It means every actuality entails the correlative potentiality. So, unless something is operational (proximately able to act), it cannot act/operate.

    And why do you feel the absence of an unrestricted PSR is inconsistent with it?andrewk

    I have already explained this. Since no merely potential reality is operational (or it would not still be potential), no potential can operate to make itself actual. So, the actualization of every potential requires the operation of a being which is already actual (its cause). Further, it is an oxymoron to say that something insufficient to being about an effect brings about that effect. So, the cause must be sufficient.
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