Feser has recently responded to my IJPR article. I will respond to his post in a series of blog posts. Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. This post is Part 4, which deals with the prior or intrinsic probability of P-EIT and EET as well as Feser’s summary of my paper’s stage-setting.
Feser: “A third claim Schmid makes about EIT and EET is that neither has a presumption in its favor, so that we ought initially to be agnostic about which is correct. A priori, they are evenly matched.”
This is one part of my paper that I have come to disagree with. For I now think EIT is far better than EET when it comes to prior or intrinsic probability [or a priori plausibility, to use Feser’s phrase — one I’m happy to use]. One key determinant of prior/intrinsic probability is simplicity. And unless I have overlooked something, it is clearly true that EIT is simpler than EET. For one thing, EET requires a categorically different kind of causation in our ontology [namely, sustaining causation]. EIT does not by itself require this. For another thing, EET is going to require a categorically different kind of being in our ontology [assuming, as I take to be innocuous in this dialectical context, the impossibility of infinitely descending per se chains of causal dependence]. In particular, EET is going to require there to be at least one timeless being that sustains temporal things in existence. EET is thus committed not only to all the temporal entities EIT is committed to, but it also includes more entities (a timeless entity), more kinds of causation (sustenance or conservation from without, as well as timeless-to-temporal causation), and more fundamental [i.e. not-reducible-to-other] kinds of entities (reality is fundamentally divided at least into timeless/immutable concrete things and temporal/immutable concrete things), and so on. This makes EET much more complex than EIT and hence much less intrinsically probable. [Fn]
I also want to pinpoint another way in which I would modify the IJPR paper. In particular, I say therein that “Consider again P-EIT and EET. In particular, notice that they exactly parallel one another. Their ontological commitments are exactly parallel (each committed to a particular kind of tendency within temporal objects)”. This, I don’t think, is right. First, I seem to speak in this passage as if a ‘tendency’ is some metaphysically heavyweight thing, such as a dispositional property of something. But that is a commitment of neither P-EIT nor EET. In particular, they can both be read in ways that don’t ontologically commit to some ‘tendency’ — this can be read in a metaphysically lightweight way. [For those interested, cf. my discussion of tendency-disposition accounts here for more on this.] Second, it is wrong that the two theses have the same commitments. As I showed in the previous paragraph, EET has many, many more commitments. In any case, my modifications/corrections only strengthen my paper’s case.
[Fn] Note that when philosophers speak of fundamental kinds of things in the context of theoretical virtue comparison, they simply mean kinds of things that are not analyzable in terms of or reducible to other kinds of things. This is a separate issue from one such fundamental kind of thing [e.g. temporal things] standing in a causal dependence relation to another such fundamental kind of thing [e.g., a timeless thing or things].
But Feser thinks I’m mistaken for another reason, and I will argue that he is mistaken in this regard.
Feser: “This too, I would argue, is mistaken. To take an example I have often used, suppose you explain, to someone who has never heard of them before (a young child, say), the nature or essence of a lion, of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and of a unicorn. Then you tell him that, of these three animals, one exists, one used to exist but has gone extinct, and the other never existed and is fictional. You ask him to tell you, based on his new knowledge of the essences of each, which is which. Naturally, he couldn’t tell you. For there is nothing in the essence or nature of these things that could, by itself, tell you whether or not it exists. Existence is something additional to the essence of a contingent thing. It doesn’t follow from such a thing’s essence.”
Suppose I grant this. All the child should conclude is that — precisely because there is nothing about a contingent thing [or its nature] that tells us whether it exists — there must be some other factor that explains why the contingent thing exists. In other words, we need some reason why the contingent thing is in reality at all. But this, of course, is an entirely separate question from why, once in existence, the thing continues to exist.
And, indeed, I would argue that the a priori considerations strongly favor EIT. Consider this dialogue between me and the child from earlier.
Joe: Suppose something S exists immediately before a given moment m. Now, for S to fail to exist at m despite existing immediately before m is for some kind of change to occur. Of course, it’s not as though S undergoes some change in this process, since S doesn’t become something different. But still, there is some kind of change here, whether in the ontological inventory of what there is, or whether in the incorporation of what were previously S’s parts into parts of something else, or whether in the passing away of a state, or whatever. [See Section 4.1.2 here for more on this objection.]
Child: That seems reasonable to me.
Joe: But changes of state (i.e., cases where some new state comes to be or some old state passes away) plausibly require some cause. It’s not as though a raging tiger could just spring into existence in this room right now; that would require some cause.
Child: Yeah, changes of state seem to require causes.
Joe: So, if there is no cause that induces the relevant change of state, then there won’t be such a change.
Child: That follows.
Joe: So, if there is no cause that induces S to cease to exist at m — that is, if there is nothing that comes along to destroy S — then S will not cease to exist at m. And in that case, S will persist to m. For you granted earlier that S’s failing to exist m despite existing before m constitutes some kind of change. In particular, it’s a change of state in the sense of an old state passing away. And in that case, we get the conclusion that so long as nothing destroys S from immediately before m through m, then S will exist at m. We derived this in a manner that removes mystery as to why and how S exists at m.
Child: That makes sense.
In this (obviously gerrymandered) conversation, we have a seemingly perfectly illuminating inertialist-friendly explanation of why S exists at m once S is in existence. The explanation tells us precisely how and why S exists at m. And whether or not existence follows from what a contingent thing is is not relevant to this point.
Feser: “This is, of course, an argument Aquinas gives for the Thomistic doctrine of the real distinction between essence and existence (which I develop and defend in chapter 4 of Five Proofs). The point for the moment is this. If nothing about the essence or nature of a thing entails that it exists at all in the first place, then it is hard to see how anything about its essence or nature could entail that will persist in existence once it does exist.”
Maybe so. But nothing in the exchange above, for instance, assumes that it was something about the essence or nature of the contingent thing which explains why the object persists. Totally separate explanatory facts were cited. And so this point doesn’t support the denial of EIT, which is what it would need to do in order for Feser to substantiate his claim that EET is better off than EIT in terms of their ‘a priori matchup’ (as it were).
Feser: “In short, the very nature of a contingent thing qua contingent makes it implausible to attribute to it a feature like existential inertia. In which case, EET is, contra Schmid, a priori more plausible than EIT.”
I have already shown why this is mistaken. First, none of the explanatory facts cited in my conversation with the child involved facts about the essence or nature of a contingent thing explaining why it persists. And there are whole swathes of inertialist-friendly explanations of persistence, as we saw in previous posts in this series, that likewise make no appeal to the nature of contingent things. I have also already explained why existential inertia isn’t a ‘feature’ or ‘attribute’ of things in Section 3 of my lengthier blog post. (And even those who accept a tendency-based account of EIT where things have the tendency by nature [cf. some tendency-disposition accounts] should not be convinced by what Feser says. They will simply say ‘if you leave off a tendency to persist in your description of their essences, then you have simply given the child an incomplete description’.)
Finally, suppose — contrary to what I argued — that Feser did show or render plausible the claim that contingent things do not enjoy existential inertia. As I point out in a footnote of my IJPR paper and explain in more detail in Section 4.1 of my lengthier blog post, in principle EIT (or an EIT) can quantify over a subset of temporal concrete objects. And so the inertialist may very well hold that contingent things uniformly fail to enjoy inertial persistence, but that there is nevertheless some foundational necessarily existent temporal concrete object or objects upon which non-foundational contingent concrete objects depend. (Theist-friendly examples include the neo-classical or panentheistic temporal God, while non-theist-friendly examples include one or more foundational quantum fields, or a spatiotemporal wavefunction [cf. Section 4.3.8 of my lengthier blog post], or a collection of fundamental particles, what have you.] In this case, it is false that nothing about the necessary foundation demands its existence or its persistence; indeed, the opposite is true. Hence, even if — contrary to what I argued — Feser’s argument succeeds, the inertialist can still maintain a version of EIT. (To be sure, Feser might try to adduce other arguments claiming that only the classical theistic God could be necessarily existent. But that is a separate argument from the one under present consideration, and my sole purpose here is to point out that the the argument under present consideration need not move an inertialist to abandon their position. And there’s also the fact that there are responses to such arguments that, by my lights at least, succeed.)
Feser: “In summary, then, in the first, stage-setting part of his paper, Schmid makes three dubious claims: that the falsity of EIT and truth of EET are simply taken for granted by the Aristotelian proof (not true);”
Let’s also summarize: in Feser’s assessment of the stage-setting part of my paper, he both mischaracterized and read uncharitably what I said about the presupposition of EIT, and even if he didn’t, my point still stands [cf. Part 2]. So his first point here is simply false.
Feser: “that the falsity of EIT does not give us reason to believe EET (not true);”
And I already addressed Feser’s allegations in this regard in Part 3, showing that they don’t work. Hence, Feser is wrong to claim that what I said here is false.
(I am assuming that by ‘does not give us reason’, Feser means ‘does not give us adequate reason’ (instead of meaning ‘does not give us any reason’), since nowhere did I say that the negation of P-EIT does not give us any reason to believe EET.)
Feser: “and that EIT and EET are equally plausible a priori (not true).”
I have already shown why Feser’s responses to my claim here fail. See the paragraphs above. But Feser is (accidentally) right here — my claim that they’re equally plausible a priori is not true. As I explained above, EIT is much more plausible than EET a priori!
Feser: “So unpromising a beginning does not portend well for the rest of the paper, and indeed further serious problems with it arise immediately.”
And an unpromising beginning to Feser’s blog post, rife as it was with false claims and misrepresentation, does not portend well for the rest of his blog post, and indeed further serious problems with it arise immediately — problems to which I will turn in Part 5 of this series.