Explaining Explanation

Five Solas

Active member
It's relevant as the basis of your OP is that such things potentially admit to no further explanation and are the stopping point for explanation. If the claim is that they exist, you're committed to a heretofore impossible defense of their existence. If the claim is that they do not exist, they're a) not a stopping point or explanation of anything and b) still admit to possible further conceptual explanation as I've offered in 1) and 2).

The other candidate of the OP is the universe, and as I said initially, I'd insist on it as an example of 1) as well, if it is the stopping point for explanation.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
It's relevant as the basis of your OP is that such things potentially admit to no further explanation and are the stopping point for explanation. If the claim is that they exist, you're committed to a heretofore impossible defense of their existence. If the claim is that they do not exist, they're a) not a stopping point or explanation of anything and b) still admit to possible further conceptual explanation as I've offered in 1) and 2).

The other candidate of the OP is the universe, and as I said initially, I'd insist on it as an example of 1) as well, if it is the stopping point for explanation.
Again, the laws are a stopping point for explanation because of the necessity of the specific instances from which the general logical laws are abstracted. The necessity is grounded in the properties of those specific instances. It is the latter which admit of no further conceptual explanation.

If you are questioning the universe as a candidate for brute fact existence, claiming it must have some property of necessary self-existence, then I think this requires a rebuttal to my OP argument showing otherwise.
 

Five Solas

Active member
Again, the laws are a stopping point for explanation because of the necessity of the specific instances from which the general logical laws are abstracted. The necessity is grounded in the properties of those specific instances. It is the latter which admit of no further conceptual explanation.

If you are questioning the universe as a candidate for brute fact existence, claiming it must have some property of necessary self-existence, then I think this requires a rebuttal to my OP argument showing otherwise.
If something does not exist it does not provide a stopping point. In this reformulation, you're still committed to proving properties exist or you are left without a stopping point.

I don't see that I owe you a rebuttal. I've offered 1) & 2) as an alternative. However, I'm game, except that the OP, as far as I see, uses the laws of logic instead of the universe as an example. This is (I think) the relevant statement in the OP: We cannot explain the chain itself causally, for any prior cause is already a part of the chain we are trying to explain, and we cannot explain it conceptually, for there is still no contradiction entailed by none of it ever having existed or occurred. So the chain itself would exist as a brute fact.

Agreed on the first, that the prior cause is already a part of the chain. On the second I disagree, arguing that there is indeed a contradiction entailed between existence and non-existence, that a thing would have to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. That, and I deny the principle that something comes from nothing and the idea that everything is an illusion. From this I conclude that something, be it God or the universe, has this quality of being.

And perhaps this from the OP (If I missed one pertinent to the universe, I apologize): We must instead look further to see if we have achieved any overall data reduction to warrant extending the boundary of explicability beyond what might be a brute fact.

2) provides the data reduction.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
If something does not exist it does not provide a stopping point. In this reformulation, you're still committed to proving properties exist or you are left without a stopping point.
I'm quite happy to say that properties exist. Again, the stopping-point necessity lies in the properties - those that fall under the abstractions we call laws of logic.

I don't see that I owe you a rebuttal. I've offered 1) & 2) as an alternative.
I think the possibilities you are raising are already addressed and ruled out by the OP arguments, and that's why a rebuttal is needed. But I could be wrong, as it is difficult to follow exactly how your suggestions connect to what I've said in the OP. But I appreciate that you are trying to connect to what I've said, and I appreciate that this isn't exactly easy.

However, I'm game, except that the OP, as far as I see, uses the laws of logic instead of the universe as an example.
An example of what? I don't understand what you are saying here. Could you expand? The OP discusses the universe and its causal laws in the context of arguing that brute facts are unavoidable, and then considering what might qualify as a brute fact. It then later discusses the laws of logic in the context of arguing that they are stopping points for explanation.

This is (I think) the relevant statement in the OP: We cannot explain the chain itself causally, for any prior cause is already a part of the chain we are trying to explain, and we cannot explain it conceptually, for there is still no contradiction entailed by none of it ever having existed or occurred. So the chain itself would exist as a brute fact.

Agreed on the first, that the prior cause is already a part of the chain. On the second I disagree, arguing that there is indeed a contradiction entailed between existence and non-existence, that a thing would have to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. That, and I deny the principle that something comes from nothing and the idea that everything is an illusion. From this I conclude that something, be it God or the universe, has this quality of being.
The statement you quote is considering the possibility of an infinite causal regress (ICR) universe, arguing that the chain as a whole would then exist without explanation. You seem to be suggesting that there is a contradiction in the idea of there being nothing at all, but it is a fallacy to infer from 'necessarily, something or other exists' that 'some specific thing/being necessarily exists'. Also, I'm not sure how a necessarily existing ICR universe could be made consistent with a God - there would be no explanatory work left for Him to do.

And perhaps this from the OP (If I missed one pertinent to the universe, I apologize): We must instead look further to see if we have achieved any overall data reduction to warrant extending the boundary of explicability beyond what might be a brute fact.

2) provides the data reduction.
This seems like a separate issue. The first is whether or not I am right in arguing that not everything can have an explanation. The second is whether or not positing God (or something else with a property of necessary existence) counts as a explanation in virtue of achieving data reduction. These are two separate issues. I would argue against either, but at the moment I'm not sure which you're arguing for.
 

Five Solas

Active member
I'm quite happy to say that properties exist.
And that's fine, it's just that this provides rationality for doubting the OP.

"But I appreciate that you are trying to connect to what I've said, and I appreciate that this isn't exactly easy."

No worries. A lot of this comes from me using shorthand because I recognize you're conversant with the material. I'll try to be more clear.

"You seem to be suggesting that there is a contradiction in the idea of there being nothing at all, but it is a fallacy to infer from 'necessarily, something or other exists' that 'some specific thing/being necessarily exists'. Also, I'm not sure how a necessarily existing ICR universe could be made consistent with a God - there would be no explanatory work left for Him to do."

No exactly. I'd be arguing that the best explanation is that something has always existed, and that it has the power of being within itself. And I agree as stated upfront, it could be some sort of natural entity. If that were one's conclusion, of course there would be no reason to make it consistent with God.

"but at the moment I'm not sure which you're arguing for."

Then I've communicated poorly. I'll try again.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
And that's fine, it's just that this provides rationality for doubting the OP.
I don't yet see how. Please elaborate, with direct reference to the OP if possible.

No exactly. I'd be arguing that the best explanation is that something has always existed, and that it has the power of being within itself. And I agree as stated upfront, it could be some sort of natural entity. If that were one's conclusion, of course there would be no reason to make it consistent with God.
I understand that this is the suggestion. What I don't see is how it relates to the OP, or which part of it you are arguing against. If it is meant to show that you can avoid having any brute facts then I argue that this fails because you will still end up with either a contingent connection between the necessary entity and what it produces, or you will make all contingency impossible. The latter path reduces all causal explanation to conceptual explanation, and the burden would then be on you to show how, for example, there would be a logical contradiction in my having had sausages instead of bacon for breakfast.
 

Five Solas

Active member
I don't yet see how. Please elaborate, with direct reference to the OP if possible.
Because the OP is suffused with logic as the example of a brute fact. In addition to having offered 1) as a class of entity that provides further explanation, I've also provided criticism of your primary example, logic, and this serves to support 1) as well as inject doubt into the OP. Here are some examples from the text:

"One point following from this is that it is clearly impossible for everything to have an explanation, i.e. at some point explanation must bottom out with brute facts - those things for which not only no explanation is known, but for which no explanation exists to be discovered."

You've classified logic as a thing here by later referring to it as a brute fact. Hence my question as to its existence or not, and the subsequent dilemma.

"We might then ask what kind of things can qualify as brute facts, now that we are forced to concede their existence. Plausible candidates might be the fundamental laws of nature..."

I'm assuming by existence here you mean the BFs. Regardless, I'm again questioning how something that does not exist can serve as a brute fact, a stopping point, or anything else. And if the laws of logic do exist as abstract objects, you're wed to a highly contentious premise for your OP to be sound. It's reasonable doubt, at any rate.

"Simply put, explanation is data reduction - we understand things when we can subsume them under an existing law or principle, or contain them within some already established pattern."

Existing law? See above.

"The second point is that logic itself becomes a foundational stopping point for explanation. Logic is already as explained as anything can be..."

Is it? Again, I want to know if it is a thing or not. This really makes a difference to whether it can be a stopping point. It's as if we're saying no-thing can stop things.

"Now we draw a bunch of other circles outside of the first, each representing another consistent way that everything otherwise could have been."

Notice how the concept of being is used here. In these modal arguments, I still ask to know whether logic is thought to exist in these possible worlds.

"Most obviously, we cannot say that God caused the laws of logic."

How am I to think of causing something that doesn't exist?

Here it is again:

"To use the same modal concepts used above, to say that X is grounded in or depends upon Y is to say that in our circle (the actual world) we have both X and Y, that in at least one other circle there is no Y, and that in every circle where there is no Y there is also no X."

Now, in no way do I wish you to think I'm speaking poorly of this OP here. I think it's a fine, deep, and very interesting piece of work with lots of good elements that I'll take with me for future use. Hope you don't take my interaction with it any other way. The ontology quoted above, though, I believe to be an area of focus for you WRT the OP, even if it's merely a clarification of language. I'm arguing it's more, but I don't expect that to resonate with you, and that's okay, my friend.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
Because the OP is suffused with logic as the example of a brute fact. In addition to having offered 1) as a class of entity that provides further explanation, I've also provided criticism of your primary example, logic, and this serves to support 1) as well as inject doubt into the OP. Here are some examples from the text:

"One point following from this is that it is clearly impossible for everything to have an explanation, i.e. at some point explanation must bottom out with brute facts - those things for which not only no explanation is known, but for which no explanation exists to be discovered."

You've classified logic as a thing here by later referring to it as a brute fact. Hence my question as to its existence or not, and the subsequent dilemma.

"We might then ask what kind of things can qualify as brute facts, now that we are forced to concede their existence. Plausible candidates might be the fundamental laws of nature..."

I'm assuming by existence here you mean the BFs. Regardless, I'm again questioning how something that does not exist can serve as a brute fact, a stopping point, or anything else. And if the laws of logic do exist as abstract objects, you're wed to a highly contentious premise for your OP to be sound. It's reasonable doubt, at any rate.

"Simply put, explanation is data reduction - we understand things when we can subsume them under an existing law or principle, or contain them within some already established pattern."

Existing law? See above.

"The second point is that logic itself becomes a foundational stopping point for explanation. Logic is already as explained as anything can be..."

Is it? Again, I want to know if it is a thing or not. This really makes a difference to whether it can be a stopping point. It's as if we're saying no-thing can stop things.

"Now we draw a bunch of other circles outside of the first, each representing another consistent way that everything otherwise could have been."

Notice how the concept of being is used here. In these modal arguments, I still ask to know whether logic is thought to exist in these possible worlds.

"Most obviously, we cannot say that God caused the laws of logic."

How am I to think of causing something that doesn't exist?

Here it is again:

"To use the same modal concepts used above, to say that X is grounded in or depends upon Y is to say that in our circle (the actual world) we have both X and Y, that in at least one other circle there is no Y, and that in every circle where there is no Y there is also no X."

Now, in no way do I wish you to think I'm speaking poorly of this OP here. I think it's a fine, deep, and very interesting piece of work with lots of good elements that I'll take with me for future use. Hope you don't take my interaction with it any other way. The ontology quoted above, though, I believe to be an area of focus for you WRT the OP, even if it's merely a clarification of language. I'm arguing it's more, but I don't expect that to resonate with you, and that's okay, my friend.
The OP doesn't argue for the laws of logic as brute facts. A brute fact is something contingent that nevertheless lacks an explanation. The OP argues for logic as being necessary, and on that account as being as fully explained as anything can be. I still feel you're not really directly engaging with the OP arguments, and I'm still not clear on what you're actually disagreeing with, but I do appreciate the discussion.
 

Five Solas

Active member
10/4 & no worries. I share your feeling, as if we've written 3,000 words together and have not gained traction on a single point we can discuss. Fair play and no name calling, etc., though, and that's a big plus around here :) Cheers.
 

Komodo

Well-known member
Someone asked recently what atheists think. Well, here is a bit about what this particular atheist thinks (edited from a thread on the previous forums).

What is explanation? I find that many unthinkingly assume that everything must have an explanation, and that any answer to a 'why' question counts as being better than not having one[. . .]
I just thought I'd try to catch up with some of the old, "dead" threads here and saw yours. (I had to cut your original post, because the system demanded <1000 words.) I think you're entirely correct that TAG definitively fails as an argument, because, as you say:

Logic itself becomes a foundational stopping point for explanation. Logic is already as explained as anything can be, as it is not possible to achieve further data reduction with respect to that which cannot be otherwise without contradiction.

I would add (in fact I think I did add, in the earlier incarnation of this thread and forum) that I think a fundamental mistake which drives this quest for an "explanation" of logic is seeing it as a "thing" like starfish, or earthquakes, or atoms. We naturally strive to discover where "things" "come from," so it seems natural to extend this pattern of investigation to logic; but logic is not an object or event in time and space, so it doesn't really raise the same questions that such objects do.

I think your section on modal logic and circles of possible worlds is new here, and I'm not sure I get it. Take this passage:

One might concede the necessity of logic but still want to ask why this is - why are there any necessary aspects to reality at all? However, a little modal logic can show why this is mistaken. Imagine we draw a circle, and in that circle we write a letter for every true fact. Now we draw a bunch of other circles outside of the first, each representing another consistent way that everything otherwise could have been. Now write 'p' in the first circle to represent laws of logic. If we agree that they are necessary and could not have been otherwise, then we must also write p in all of the other circles too.
My emphasis. It seems to me that to ask "why are there any necessary aspects to reality at all?" is implicitly to claim it is or might be possible for worlds to exist in which there aren't any necessary aspects to reality. (If you ask, "why are there atoms at all," you're implying that there might be possible worlds in which atoms don't exist, no?) So I don't think your hypothetical interlocutor would have to stipulate that he would have to write p in all the other circles too.

My other kind of quibble is that I'm not sure KCA-type arguments are as fatally flawed from the start as is TAG. Suppose that some such argument left us with no reasonable alternative but to conclude that all the fundamental constants must be the design of one being of unique, immense power and intelligence (whether or not you called him "omnipotent" or "omniscient"). That would be a significant advance in explanation, I would think, even if it still left us with unanswered questions which might have to be shrugged off as "brute facts." And it would come close enough for most purposes to a proof that God -- or something remarkably like the being usually called "God" -- exists, or at least once existed.

Of course I'm not aware of any such argument, but I'd say the pursuit of a convincing KCA-type argument is kind of like the pursuit of cold fusion, while the pursuit of a convincing TAG-type argument is more like the pursuit of a perpetual motion machine.
 

Electric Skeptic

Well-known member
Because the OP is suffused with logic as the example of a brute fact. In addition to having offered 1) as a class of entity that provides further explanation, I've also provided criticism of your primary example, logic, and this serves to support 1) as well as inject doubt into the OP. Here are some examples from the text:

"One point following from this is that it is clearly impossible for everything to have an explanation, i.e. at some point explanation must bottom out with brute facts - those things for which not only no explanation is known, but for which no explanation exists to be discovered."

You've classified logic as a thing here by later referring to it as a brute fact. Hence my question as to its existence or not, and the subsequent dilemma.

"We might then ask what kind of things can qualify as brute facts, now that we are forced to concede their existence. Plausible candidates might be the fundamental laws of nature..."

I'm assuming by existence here you mean the BFs. Regardless, I'm again questioning how something that does not exist can serve as a brute fact, a stopping point, or anything else. And if the laws of logic do exist as abstract objects, you're wed to a highly contentious premise for your OP to be sound. It's reasonable doubt, at any rate.

"Simply put, explanation is data reduction - we understand things when we can subsume them under an existing law or principle, or contain them within some already established pattern."

Existing law? See above.

"The second point is that logic itself becomes a foundational stopping point for explanation. Logic is already as explained as anything can be..."

Is it? Again, I want to know if it is a thing or not. This really makes a difference to whether it can be a stopping point. It's as if we're saying no-thing can stop things.

"Now we draw a bunch of other circles outside of the first, each representing another consistent way that everything otherwise could have been."

Notice how the concept of being is used here. In these modal arguments, I still ask to know whether logic is thought to exist in these possible worlds.

"Most obviously, we cannot say that God caused the laws of logic."

How am I to think of causing something that doesn't exist?

Here it is again:

"To use the same modal concepts used above, to say that X is grounded in or depends upon Y is to say that in our circle (the actual world) we have both X and Y, that in at least one other circle there is no Y, and that in every circle where there is no Y there is also no X."

Now, in no way do I wish you to think I'm speaking poorly of this OP here. I think it's a fine, deep, and very interesting piece of work with lots of good elements that I'll take with me for future use. Hope you don't take my interaction with it any other way. The ontology quoted above, though, I believe to be an area of focus for you WRT the OP, even if it's merely a clarification of language. I'm arguing it's more, but I don't expect that to resonate with you, and that's okay, my friend.
Well done, guys. 20 consecutive civil posts actually discussing the OP before the children chimed in with their pathetic insults.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
I just thought I'd try to catch up with some of the old, "dead" threads here and saw yours.
Thanks for your reply.

I think your section on modal logic and circles of possible worlds is new here, and I'm not sure I get it. Take this passage:

My emphasis. It seems to me that to ask "why are there any necessary aspects to reality at all?" is implicitly to claim it is or might be possible for worlds to exist in which there aren't any necessary aspects to reality. (If you ask, "why are there atoms at all," you're implying that there might be possible worlds in which atoms don't exist, no?) So I don't think your hypothetical interlocutor would have to stipulate that he would have to write p in all the other circles too.
That section was addressing someone who accepts that logic is necessary but goes on to ask why there are any necessary aspects at all. You're right that this questions presupposes that there might not have been anything necessary, but my point is that this is not consistent with the acceptance of logic actually being necessary in reality.

My other kind of quibble is that I'm not sure KCA-type arguments are as fatally flawed from the start as is TAG. Suppose that some such argument left us with no reasonable alternative but to conclude that all the fundamental constants must be the design of one being of unique, immense power and intelligence (whether or not you called him "omnipotent" or "omniscient"). That would be a significant advance in explanation, I would think, even if it still left us with unanswered questions which might have to be shrugged off as "brute facts." And it would come close enough for most purposes to a proof that God -- or something remarkably like the being usually called "God" -- exists, or at least once existed.
I don't think an argument which got you that would be KCA. It sounds more like it would have to be some version of the teleological argument. I said the OP arguments undermine KCA in particular because that argument proceeds from the premise that every beginning must have a cause - and that premise carries no weight once we realize that not everything has an explanation.

Of course I'm not aware of any such argument, but I'd say the pursuit of a convincing KCA-type argument is kind of like the pursuit of cold fusion, while the pursuit of a convincing TAG-type argument is more like the pursuit of a perpetual motion machine.
I like the analogy, and might agree if we were to replace KCA with cosmological or teleological.
 

Komodo

Well-known member
Thanks for your reply.
No problem!
That section was addressing someone who accepts that logic is necessary but goes on to ask why there are any necessary aspects at all. You're right that this questions presupposes that there might not have been anything necessary, but my point is that this is not consistent with the acceptance of logic actually being necessary in reality.


I don't think an argument which got you that would be KCA. It sounds more like it would have to be some version of the teleological argument. I said the OP arguments undermine KCA in particular because that argument proceeds from the premise that every beginning must have a cause - and that premise carries no weight once we realize that not everything has an explanation.
Fair enough.
 
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