Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Nature, Reason, God, Part 2

WE FINISHED OUR LAST POSTING WITH THE QUESTION "Why do things exist? In addressing this question Finnis asks whether the principle of sufficient reason* compels the conclusion that there must be an answer to the question of the fact of "sheer existence," of "Why things are?"

Finnis admits that the proponents of natural law which in his Natural Law and Natural Rights he has not "reproduced or defended,"** thought, based upon the principle of sufficient reason, that there was such an answer, whereas the likes of Hume and Kant did not. NLNR, 384. From a philosophical standpoint, he rejects the principle of sufficient reason, but wonders if--despite the absence of such a principle--the question as to "why the whole state of affairs causing the first-mentioned state of affairs to exist itself exists?" may persist and be answerable. NLNR, 385. Finnis believes that the contingency of the world is at the heart of the answer to the question of whether there is a God (defined as an uncaused cause or uncaused causing). In other words, in assessing the contingency of the world, that all things must have an explicating cause, is there an infinity of causes (which necessarily is the skeptic's answer) or is there reasonably a first cause, an uncaused cause (which, if the question is not ignored, is the only other answer other than that of the skeptics)?

While Finnis rejects finding the answer to such a question in the principle of sufficient reason, Finnis suggests that self-evident principles of theoretical rationality (as distinguished from practical rationality) hold the clue to answering that question. One of those self-evident principles is the following:
If a question of a certain form has been asked and answered, one can except another question of the same general form to be answerable, and: If a theoretical question can be partially answered by positing a theoretical entity [that is, an entity of which we have no experience via the senses], and to do so allows the raising of further questions which, if answered, might well provide a more satisfying answer to the initial question, the one ought to posit such a theoretical entity--unless there are good reasons for not doing so.
NLNR, 385.***

We ask and are able to answer questions of the form, "Why does X exist?" as a matter of course. Why does the oxidization of iron exist? Why does George have blue eyes (why do his blue eyes exist) when both his parents had brown eyes? Why do solar eclipses exist? It follows that if the question, "Why does X exist?" may be asked of a particular state of affairs (say, iron, a person's eyes, the sun, or any subject of our myriad sciences), then it may be asked of the "whole set of states of affairs which initially explain why the particular state of affairs first under consideration itself exists." NLNR, 385. The answer to the question, "Why does X exist?" when said of the X that is defined as the "entire state of affairs" can be answered by positing a theoretical entity (an "uncaused cause" "uncaused causing," namely God). Further, positing that entity (the "uncaused cause," an "uncaused causing," or God) allows for the raising of further questions the answers of which allow for more satisfactory answers to the question as to why the entire state of affairs exists rather than something else or nothing. There is, therefore, good reason for positing that God as uncaused cause or uncaused causing exists. And there are no good reasons for positing that notion that God as uncaused cause does not exist. That, in a nutshell is Finnis's rendition of the argument of the existence of God based upon contingency which he appears to have borrowed from Germain Grisez (who adapted it from St. Thomas).

Five Eskimos (by Matisse)

The question, "why does X exist?" when "X" is the "state of the whole set of state of affairs" is more than the "empty project"of answering a question that is just an aggregate sum of the particular questions "why does X exist?" when that question is said of the individual Xs of a group or set. Thus Finnis rejects Paul Edwards's "Five Eskimos" argument that the question of "why does X exist?" is absurd when posited of the "the whole set of state of affairs" since if the question "why does X exist" when said of each individual of the set is answerable, there is no need to ask the question of the whole set of state of affairs: the answers to the question for each "X" answer the question for the aggregate of Xs. Here is Paul Edwards's argument:

Suppose I see a group of five Eskimos standing on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 50th St. and I wish to explain why the group came to New York. Investigation reveals the following stories: Eskimo No. 1 did not enjoy the extreme cold in the polar region and decided to move to a warmer climate. No. 2 is the husband of No. 1; he loves her dearly and did not wish to live without her. No. 3 is the son of Eskimos 1 and 2; he is too small and too weak to oppose his parents. No. 4 saw and advertisement in the New York Times for an Eskimo to appear on television. No. 5 is a private detective engaged by the Pinkerton Agency to keep an eye on Eskimo No. 4.

Let us assume that we have now explained in the case of each of the five Eskimos why he or she is in New York. Somebody then asks: "All right, but what about the group as a whole, why is it in New York? This would plainly be an absurd question. There is no group over and above the give members and if we have explained why each of the five members is in New York, we have ipso facto explained why the group is there. A critic of the cosmological argument would claim that it is just as absurd to ask for the cause of the series as a whole, as distinct from asking for the causes of the individual members.†

As Finnis argues, the question that asks for explanation for the whole state of affairs is different from a mere aggregation of the individual questions that ask for an explanation as to the existence of each member of a group or set. What is involved is "a matter of explaining more fully the existing of one particular state of affairs." In other words, the question seeks to go deeper than the individual sum of explanations aggregated. "The existing of that (first mentioned) state of affairs [in Edwards's example the explanation of the presence of five Eskimos in New York] is partially explained by the already postulated causing state of affairs, but only on the assumption that the whole causing state of affairs exists." NLNR, 386. The question is not why it is that five Eskimos find themselves in a corner in New York, but the question is why is it that the five Eskimos and New York exist and not some other entire contingent situation (such as four Eskimos in the corner of Krasnopesnenskaya and Barrikadnaya streets in Moscow)? So Edwards begs the question by assuming the answer (or by ignoring the deeper question). There is but one explanation for "the whole causing state of affairs."
[T]here is some state of affairs causing that whole causing set of prerequisites or conditions of the first-mentioned state of affairs, but which is not itself included in that causing set of conditions precisely because, unlike all members of that set, its existing does not require some prerequisite condition (not included in itself) to be satisfied.
NLNR, 386. In short, "[t]his newly postulated state of affairs can (and should, given the sense we are giving to 'cause') be called an uncaused causing." NLNR, 386. "Where the uncaused causing must differ, if it is to explain what needs to be explained, is in this: that to exist, it requires nothing not included in itself (That is the fact about it that we signify by 'uncaused')." NLNR, 386.

Does the "uncaused causing" exist?

The explanation of its existing can only be this: that the uncaused causing state of affairs includes, as a prerequisite to its existing, a state of affairs that exists because of what it is, i.e. because it is what it is.

NLNR, 387.

From this, Finnis seems to latch onto an ontological argument of sorts. In contrast to all other contingent state of affairs (which do not necessarily exist, and so what it is is different from the question of that it is), this uncaused causing must exist necessarily. For the uncaused causing, what it is is equivalent to that it is. The only thing we know, then of the uncaused causing is that what it is is the same as that it is. But that is enough to compel the conclusion that the necessary existence of an uncaused causing is the only adequate explanation for any contingent state of affairs to exist. "[W]ithout it [a necessary uncaused cause], no state of affairs that might not exist could exist." NLNR, 387. Since we know that there is a contingent state of affairs that exists which might not exist, then it follows that a necessary uncaused cause must exist. This "uncaused cause," this "uncaused causing" is what we call the God of philosophy, the God of reason. We are at preambula fidei, we are walking at the long edge of reason and the short edge of faith. We are the divide between faith and reason: windward is reason, leeward is faith.

*The "principle of sufficient reason" is a philosophical principle that everything must have an explanatory reason or cause. It rejects the argument that there are brute or unexplainable facts: that there are some facts that "just are." It is aligned with the common expression, perhaps Parmenidian in origin: ex nihilo, nihil fit, nothing comes from nothing. It is the principle behind King Lear's insistence, in his conversation with his daughter Cordelia, that there must be a reason.
KING LEAR: ..what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
CORDELIA: Nothing, my lord.
KING LEAR: Nothing?!
CORDELIA: Nothing.
KING LEAR: Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.

Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, sc. 1, 88-92.

Finnis quotes Leibniz's formulation of the principle: "No fact can be real or existent, no statement true, unless there be a sufficient reason why it is so and not otherwise, although these reasons usually cannot be known to us." Et celui de la Raison suffisante, en vertu duquel nous considérons qu'aucun fait ne saurait se trouver vrai ou existant, aucune Enonciation véritable, sans qu'il y ait une raison suffisante, pourquoi il en soit ainsi et non pas autrement, quoique ces raisons le plus souvent ne puissent point nous être connues. La Monadologie, section 32. Finnis rejects the principle as philosophically compelling: "But, in fact, this principle should not be conceded." NLNR, 384.
**It is unclear whom Finnis includes in this cryptic reference. He certainly includes Leibniz and Wolfe and most of the natural law theorists of the Enlightenment ilk who were inclined to predicate the existence of God on an argument based upon order (God the divine "watchmaker") and not contingency or causality.
***I'm not sure what self-evident principle this is. Most have been given a name (e.g., principle of non-contradiction). John Finnis cites to no source, either in his text or in his notes, as to this principle.
†Paul Edwards, "The Cosmological Argument," in Donald R. Burrill (ed.), The Cosmological Arguments: A Spectrum of Opinion (New York: 1967).

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