Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) in some form or other a defensible principle?

Today's issue is, the Principle of Sufficient Reason, or PSR. 

Is it a defensible concept in setting up first principles of right reason? In particular, in the face of the grand conjunction of contingent facts?

First, I think so.

Second, the form I use in my discussion on first principles of right reason is not really vulnerable to such an objection:
Schopenhauer in his Manuscript Remains, Vol. 4, notes that:  
[PSR, strong form:] "Of everything that is, it can be found why it is."
This, we may soften slightly into a weak form version that should be unobjectionable to reasonable thinkers . . . thus avoiding unnecessary side issues over the PSR, and will prove quite adequate for our purposes :
 [PSR, weak form:] Of any particular thing A that is
[. . . or (ii) is possible, or even (iii) is impossible],
we may ask, why it is
[. . . or (ii') why it is possible, or (iii') why it is impossible],
and we may expect -- or at least hope -- to find a reasonable answer.
 Of course, for any given case, X, we may simply directly proceed to ask why is X so, or why is X possible or why is X impossible, and seek a reasonable answer. So, the weak form as it stands is unobjectionable.  
And if one imagines there may be an infinite regress of contingent beings 
. . . x -1, x, x + 1, . . .
as the ultimate explanation, the answer is that we must consider the case of a candidate necessary being, say N . . .
But what about that grand conjunction of all contingent facts? Doesn't it pose a dilemma as to whether it collects/refers to itself or not?


First, a fact is something we know to moral certainty, based on experience or the like, is so. It is not equal to a raw slice of reality itself on one hand, and it is not equal to truth -- the accurate description of reality [without reference to it being known or even knowable] -- on the other.  Let's restate that:

A fact is something we know to moral certainty to be real on some reasonable grounds, such as direct experience or credible testimony or record or the like
 No reasonable person doubts that the Court records of Montserrat in the Archives for the period of the French occupation in the 1780's -- which I recently was looking at and admiring the fine penmanship that a quill pen allows -- are a fact of the present, nor that the proceedings and Court Verdicts sealed in with hot wax and the accounts of the trials, are facts of the past. 

But the stories in the Novels on the shelves next to the desk where I saw those archives, are not facts. They are fiction, though they can sound like fact due to clever writing.


The conjunction of contingent facts like that is therefore a further mental operation, a listing:
{ F1 + F2 + F3 + . . . Fn} 
We have another name for that fancy description if we can complete it perfectly and summarise contingent reality: Creation.

And Creation -- an actual overall composite reality not a description of it -- has an obvious explanation, the Creator God, a necessary being. Wherein also the list of such facts if ever composed by us would be a contingent fact, and if we were instead to speak of the set of all contingent facts contemplated by the Omniscient Creator, that would be necessarily known to him -- he would know all of reality.

So, if one says, no by "fact" I mean reality, that too has been covered.

The sufficient reason for Creation, as a reality, is that it has been made and is sustained by God, the Creator.

If you doubt the reality of that Creator, then that is a separate issue.

So also, yes, there are many vexed disputes over the PSR, but the weak form that is specific to particular things of interest x, y, z, etc and to our action to ask why they are and seek an answer, is simply not reasonably objectionable. Likewise, if we list out and join together contingent facts or even realities, what we have in hand in the end is Creation, which finds its explanation in the Creator, a necessary being.

What about infinite regresses of facts in a causal chain or the like?

Could contingent reality be so explained?

Such a causal sequence is of course step-wise. The explanation for my existence is my parents, and so forth for instance. 

What is being argued for is an infinite, stepwise causal past:

 . . . y-1, y, y+1, . . . 0 = the big bang . . . x-1, x -1 [my parents], x + 1 [me] . . .
Such is seriously problematic.

Let us count:
0, 1, 2, 3 . . .
Can we count up in steps to a transfinite number, say aleph-null?


We cannot traverse a countable, stepwise transfinite set in steps, for the same reason we cannot get to the top of a ladder with a transfinite number of rungs.

Now, take the same set of natural counting numbers, 0, 1, 2 . . . and multiply by -1:
0, -1, -2, -3, . . . 
Reverse them:

 . . . -3, -2, -1, 0

Has that grand set transformation altered the stepwise property of the set? Obviously not.

So, again, the reversed set [the negative integers] is transfinite and not travers-able in sequenced steps.

Now, all we do is to join the sets, with 0 as the overlap:

 . . . -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, . . .
The answer drops out as we can simply match this set of integers denoting an ordered sequence, to the claimed infinite set of causal steps to arrive at us here and now. Obviously, we cannot traverse the . . . - 3, -2, -1 count down stepwise, to arrive at zero, which is the big bang, the beginning of our observed cosmos.

The causal past must be finite, that is there is most certainly a beginning of creation. There is no infinite temporal causal past.

We are back again at Creation at a beginning by a necessary being, the Creator, who is eternal.

And of course properties of the cosmos such as careful and complex specific fine tuning for cell based life, point to an intelligent, designing Creator. And so forth.

So, the PSR, in its weak form is quite useful and reasonable. END