What Does Explanation even Mean?

Take Pruss’ definition of the principle of sufficient reason: every contingent fact has an explanation.  Now, given my last post on showing what a term means, we can use the principle of sufficient reason as a test case.  More specifically, we will look at the word explanation.

So explanation has been taken to be synonymous with cause.  Thus: every contingent fact has a cause.  If that is true, then since libertarian free choices, they violate the principle of sufficient reason.  However, it seems like my libertarian choice really is explained by the following facts: I exist, I have libertarian freedom, and I have certain reasons to make the choice I do.  And so a casewise view of explaining a term would show that definition of “explanation” to be false.  Moreover, the same sort of thing also seems to hold for certain interpretations of quantum mechanics.

So what we have done here is start off with a definition and then used real life examples to see if that definition works.  This is the strategy I suggested in the post above.  The final part of the strategy is to give a new definition of the term.  Maybe it is this: a contingent fact is explained if given the facts that are proposed as the explanation of the fact trying to be explained, it is no longer seen as mysterious how the fact that is trying to be explained obtains.

Ever the Twain Shall Meet

There are two broad approaches for showing what a technical term means.

The first is to give an explicit definition of the term.  The problem here is that once the definition is given, the proponent will tend to reject obvious counterexamples because they do not fit the definition.  If the person defining the term is trying to remain consistent in seeking for a true definition though, this will often lead to Chisholming.  Therefore, this approach must be wary of becoming too tied to one’s definition.

The second is the casewise approach.  Namely, we might not be able to give a definition of a term, but we can certainly point to examples where that term applies and thus learn more about the term.  The problem with this approach is that the person taking this line could simply go their merry way and never try to synthesize the information.  To avoid this, then, it seems that the person who uses the casewise approach should attempt to give a definition once a sufficient number of diverse examples have been used.

We now see how the term can come together.  We have some vague notions of how a term is defined, but counterexamples are often given to our current definition.  Thus, if we start to think about the things to which the concept applies, we start to adjust our definition. However, the very fact that we are adjusting our definition shows that we are still trying to define the term, but this definition is thoroughly grounded in what the concept actually applies to. Therefore, a mix of the two approaches seems to be the best way of elucidating terms and concepts.

The next post will give an example of this procedure.

Lewis Defends Penal Substitution–David Lewis, that is

I really have no reason to have any negative thoughts about David Lewis.  He is a great philosopher and seems rather level-headed, even if we might disagree on some major points.  Nonetheless, I must admit that when I was about to read his Do We Believe in Penal Substitution?, I expected the worst.  I thought he would caricature penal substitution and then utterly annihilate the strawman he had just erected and finally pronounce how illogical Christianity is.  David Lewis proved me wrong.

His article is a brief six pages, so if you have time I would recommend reading it.  Nonetheless, I will also summarize and discuss his article a bit.  But first, let me praise David Lewis a bit for he deserves it.  The article is very sensitive in its treatment.  By this, I do not mean that he worries about the feelings of Christians or not for I think people tend to be too sensitive today and are merely trying to get offended, but I instead mean that he makes sure he understands what he is critiquing instead of building strawmen.  Now that might not sound like anything amazing, and it certainly isn’t, but I think the fact that I am surprised by that shows the atmosphere that is current nowadays. Instead of trying to understand a position and then give an argument against it, we tend to misunderstand the position and utterly slaughter strawmen left and right. That might make us look alright and feel good, but it isn’t very productive. So I’m glad David Lewis understands what he is talking about when he chooses to talk about a subject. We should certainly emulate him on that matter.

On to the article itself, so his basic premise is summarized at the very end of the paper.  To quote:

If the rest of us were to make so bold [sic] as to rebuke the Christians for their two-mindedness, they would have a good tu quoque against us. A tu quoque is not a rejoinder on behalf of penal substitution.  Yet neither is it intellectually weightless.  It indicates that both sides agree that penal substitution sometimes makes sense after all, even if none can say how it makes sense.  And if both sides agree to that, that is some evidence that somehow they might both be right.

So Lewis’ paper argues that even non-Christians actually hold to penal substitution.  He attempts to do this discussing other people paying someone’s fines. He says that a person might try to say that penal substitution is still wrong and yet it is impractical to somehow get rid of this form of penal substitution and so that’s why we do it.  The problem with this, Lewis says, is that if we were so against penal substitution, then we would find this whole practice abominable and enforce some other form of punishment that could not have a use of penal substitution. Here I think Lewis is particularly on point since we see no moral outrage to other people paying a person’s fines. The only objection seems to come after we inform them that this is a form of penal substitution.  Their objection, then, seems to be grounded in the fact that they want to avoid affirming penal substitution instead of anything like applied ethics or consistency.  For if it were applied ethics, then the case is pretty clear cut and they should have realized it all along; if it were consistency, then Lewis’ conclusion follows just as naturally and so the matter cannot be decided.

I have read people object to Lewis’ example on the matter and they might be right on that front.  They tend to say that the law still says that the person who owes the fine is liable for it.  But Lewis never argues otherwise and that’s his whole point: the person ultimately paying isn’t actually guilty, but they are bearing the penalty.  However, we could always concede the point just for the sake of argument in that others have said that automobile insurance provides an even better example.  And that can be a topic for a different blog post.

Feel free to weigh in below and follow my blog.

Adam Contra Evil

Let’s look at the following argument I saw on a different website:

1. If Adam has [sic] chosen otherwise, there would be no evil.
2. It was possible for Adam to choose otherwise.
3. There is a possible world without evil.
C. All evil is unnecessary.

As to logical validity, (3) follows but (C) comes out of nowhere.  There is a hidden premise somewhere in here that needs to be brought out and so the argument holds no force as is since it’s not logically valid.  However, it will be an interesting exercise to look at the argument.

First, (1) is not obvious for it seems clear that it could be the case that Adam chose otherwise in his first sin and yet sinned latter. Or, if we see the serpent as sinning then that would be another example.  Moreover, Eve also sinned so there’s another counterexample.  So (1) is not correct as is, so it would need to be reformulated.

As to (2), that’s not as obvious either.  I suppose the argument wants to say something like the following:

(2.1) If Adam has libertarian free will, then it’s possible that he chooses otherwise.
(2.2) Adam has libertarian free will.
(2) Therefore, it’s possible that he chooses otherwise.

I personally do not find (2.1) very compelling myself.  I tend to think that the Frankfurt counterexamples to the principle of alternative possibilities are sound and so (2.1) is not obvious as is.

But let’s say the argument is reformulated so that (3) follows and the argument is sound.  So what?  The problem here is that it is missing still a further premise.  Namely:

(4) If a world is a possible world, then that world is a feasible world.

However, molinism denies (4) and so any problem is avoided.

All in all, therefore, it seems like a bit closer reading of Plantinga would clear up this argument right away.  The free will defense still stands, then.

An Argument for Polytheism?

Here is an argument on a forum I read.  I shall not disclose either for sake of anonymity.

I came with this argument when I was arguing with a friend about the indestructibility of adamantium. Anyway, it goes more or less like this:

1.- All properties of God are assumed to be necessary.
2.- God changed at least one of his properties at one point.
3.- Therefore not all properties of God are necessary.
4.- From (3), and the PSR, at least one of God properties is contingent.
5.- If one of God’s properties are contingent, it is possible to conceive a God with a different set of properties.
6.- Therefore there may be more than one possible God.

1 I think it’s straightfoward. Since God is eternal and has existed since always, then his properties are necessary and uncaused and all that stuff. 2 seems to be the crux of the argument. I think it is true because God was in a timeless state and then turned into a state in time. Necessary properties can’t change by definition so at least the timeless state of God isn’t necessary. This can also be work out with Jesus, as he was once an aspect of God that existed timelessly ( in the trinity, sans creation of the universe ) and then in time ( as a human, 2000 years ago when He died in the cross for us ).

5 follows I guess, if God’s property is contingent, then it’s logical to conceive a God that lacks it, although it also raise the question if God is a MGB even if he has contingent properties or if he lose one, it also raise the issue from where did it came this property ( allowing the PSR, the question is: ¿where did this proeprty came from?). Anyway, I think many arguments can be constructed from this but I’ve not sleep in 2 days so I can’t think straigh enough to make more arguments, ¿what do you think, anyway?

This will serve as a good exercise for looking at arguments.  The first thing to do is to see if the argument is logically valid.  (1) is a premise so that’s fine.  (2) is also a premise.  (3) technically doesn’t follow given the verbiage used.  Take a necessary property to be a property that if a thing exists, then it has that property in every possible world.  Given that, it could be the case that the property is had in every possible world while not being had eternally in this world.  Here it might be objected that if the property is not had at one possible time while had at another, then we could make that a possible world.  That’s not obvious though and it needs an additional premise to get to the desired conclusion.

As to (4), it follows logically, but the PSR (principle of sufficient reason) has nothing to do with it.  Instead, it follows because if it is the case that God has a certain property P, but He that property is not necessary, then it follows that God has P in one world and does not have P in another world.  That is to say that P is a contingent property.  (5) is a premise and so validity does not come into the matter.  (6) doesn’t follow by the premises given since if we use modus ponens on (5) by saying that God has a contingent property (premise (4)), then all that follows is that “ it is possible to conceive a God with a different set of properties.”  However, that’s not the conclusion that is given and so the argument does not follow as is.  Therefore, this argument is not logically valid at multiple points.

Nonetheless, the basic thought behind the argument is that if God has some properties contingently, then there can be multiple Gods.  However, the problem with this is that it simply is not true.  There are essential and accidental properties.  Essential properties are properties that a thing having those properties cannot not have; accidental properties are properties that the thing can or cannot have and still be that thing.  Let this world be world A.  Given S5 (a modal logic system), I have the essential property of “existing-at-A” because in every possible world it would be true of me that I exist at A, since I exist at A.  However, I also have accidental properties like “having two and one-half inch long hair”. Certainly, I could get my haircut tomorrow and I would still be the same person!

That discussion entails the following: God can have certain properties accidentally (and thus contingently) and still be God.  For instance, God has the property of “instantiating A”.  However, there is a possible world B where He does not instantiate A (or else it wouldn’t be B) and thus he lacks the property “instantiating A”.  Nonetheless, that Being is still God because He hasn’t lost an essential property.  Therefore, a simple understanding of the difference between accidental and essential properties is enough to defeat this argument.