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Infinite Regression and Aristotle

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  • Infinite Regression and Aristotle

    In Aristotles metaphysics, he rejects various types of infinite regressions. One of which, being an infinite series of definitions. "Moreover, what-it-meant-to-be anything cannot be indefintely resolved into a chain beyond what is meaningless. For the earlier proposition is always more of a definition than the later; and if the first of a series does not define, neither will the next." (Hope 38) I think we can use this same argument against an infinite series of explanations. For example, a thing needs to be explained insofar as the explanation it gives is insufficient. Therefore, if we are to have an infinite series of explanations, all explanations are insufficient.

  • #2
    Isn't that one of Feser's arguments in Five Proofs? He claims that there is no real explanation if we keep explaining one law of nature on the basis of a further law, on and on and on, without a first law or cause. Also the idea is similar to the very issue of essentially ordered causes.

    To my mind, however, I feel like the first stage of cosmological arguments (show that there must be a necessary being or first cause) has been well established. Books such as Pruss's and Rasmussen's "Necessary Existence" argue the point in a very clear and persuasive way. There must be (or we should at least defeasibly look for) an explanation for the existence of the totality of contingent beings, whether or not this totality forms an infinite chain. There must be at least one necessary concrete being.

    I don't think resisting the first stage of the argument is a live option at this point. A principle of explanation is a priori very plausible + inductively supported + plausibly required to rule out bizarre skeptical scenarios. Not to mention the possibility that we can run a cosmological argument using IBE or defeasible principles of explanation, as well as weak modal versions, and still reach the conclusion that there is a necessary being responsible for contingent beings. Frankly, I don't think much more needs to be done in this area.

    I think the real avenue for research in debate today is the second stage of the arguments. Namely, showing that this necessary being is divine. Here we have to discuss and rule out partially necessary beings; necessitarianism; show that the necessary being is immaterial, personal, and so on. This is what Pruss calls the "gap problem".