Kurieuo wrote:You seem generally right Byblos, but also I think nonetheless Shapiro generally does quite well on the spot.
Shapiro starts off your side of the track with "actual" and "potential", the statement he makes in the beginning is that only thing that has the power to act upon the potential of another object is either another object that is also potential, or something that is pure actuality which just exists. From there he digresses off-track to reason if you don't want an infinite regress of causes, things that have actuality and potential, you have to come to the actualised actualiser. The thing that just exists. This thing we call God. He says this is the basic Aristotelean argument shaped further by Aquinas. (Note: Shapiro never argues that an infinite regress is impossible, but merely "if you don't like it" which suggests to me he using it more for illustrative purposes than as an argument)
Now I don't believe he is necessarily wrong here to invoke cauality and an infinite regress, since I do not believe Aristotles' argument excludes such (we just know such isn't the be-all and end-all of the argument, right?). Shapiro seems to assume from the outset pure actuality just existing, and then reasons backward to this using infinite regress to try illuminate what such means to the audience. It does appear like he is using it as an argument also, and I'm sure he personally sees it as one too.
The subtleties though you/we would make are hard to distinguish in precise terms. Specifically, that a causal regress doesn't lead us to conclude a timeless being like God, but rather that causality itself evidences potentiality which means anything apart of such can't be the actual actualiser. Therefore, something that is pure actuality must exist as a matter of logical necessity and not based upon the impossibility of an infinite regression (let me know if this isn't your point).
Yet, despite this subtelty not being explained by Shapiro (if he is even aware), I nonetheless see what Shapiro says as generally valid. It is what I'd call the "horizontal" perspective of act-potency, which is easy to understand as cause and effect like we find in time. I don't believe such is necessarily precluded by Aristotelean logic, but neither is such the fuller argument being made. The horizontal understanding is one William Craig, as you know, leverages upon in his kalam cosmological argument wherein he reasons the impossibility of an actual infinite, impossibility of an infinite regress, the beginning of the universe pointing to something outside of time. I don't believe Craig's logical arguments are wrong, they seem to me very sound and persuasive. Yet, they just respresent some lines of arguments in this area and not the ones you prefer, or even the ones I prefer which I'll try elaborate further on below.
Yet, then Shapiro pivots towards a second argument that touches upon what I call a "vertical" order of contingency, which tends to avoid infinite regress causality talk. The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) which says we have capactity to understand the universe. PSR suggests there are no limitations to our understanding, we just don't have all information. Given enough information we could understand every aspect of the universe and why a thing happens.
For example, a window breaking was due to a ball going through it (windows don't just break for no reason), the ball going through it was due to my hitting it with a baseball bat (balls don't just fly through the air for no reason). Yet, then on the vertical order of things, we might ask why that ball eventually lands or an apple falls from a tree? Because there is a law of gravity. Why does the law of gravity exist? Space curviture or the like. What makes this space curviture? Note what I am here describing is NOT a "horizontal" version of cause and effect, but rather a "vertical" order of contigencies. Gravity and curviture could both be temporally (horizontally) infinite, and yet, space curviture provides the foundation upon which the laws of gravity rest upon (vertical layers).
Shapiro doesn't go into this much detail, to do so would probably lose the audience (as I've lost some readers here no doubt). I do sense however that he is touching in and around it. He does seem somewhat stuck on a cause and effect (horizontal) understanding of matters. For he reasons in his second PSR argument that if you believe we have sufficient reason to understand the universe, then there has to be something outside the system of contingencies "that got the ball rolling in the first place" (I'd much prefer he said "that lay at the foundation of everything"). This something must be pure existence, possessing pure actuality with no potentiality. Loosely quoting, he concludes, "this something must exist outside of time since things inside time always have a potential to be fulfilled, whereas things outside of time don't have a potential to be fulfilled. So I've described to you a being, that has pure existence, that exists outside of time, and has the potential to actualise anything. That's God, the evidence-based argument in favour of God."
He then starts putting forward a third argument, drifting towards telos displayed in humanity and the world. That is, Aristotle argued human beings were created to perform a certain function, that function being to reason. Every object was created to perform a certain function. If you believe everything happened randomly for no reason, then there is an is-to-ought gap that is unbridgable, which is why Atheism can't ground morality. Atheism might describe what "is" morality according to some random evolutionary "survival of the fittest" story, but it can never give rise to why we "ought" to subscribe and obey such rules since things in the world have no end goal or designated purpose.
As usual K, very thorough and spot on analysis, much of which I agree with. From my cursory listen to the video I guess I had a knee-jerk reaction so I went back and listened to it more intently. I still feel Shapiro could have been more careful in his inclusion of infinite regress as a possible premise.
Here are exactly the points I was referring to:
At minute 0:50 while discussing the Aristotelian/Thomistic proof he says:
... if you don't want an infinite regress of causes ...
I realize he may have been pandering to the audience but that's just the wrong thing to say because it makes it sound like the argument is attempting to avoid infinite regress whereas the argument rules it out by necessity.
Then at minute 5:05 he says that there are 3 possibilities for reality, 1) unmoved mover, 2) infinite regress, and 3) brute fact laws. Then he rules out 3 by virtue of lack of explanatory power, leaving 1 and 2 as the only possibilities (by deduction). But infinite regress doesn't even enter into the picture unless it is actually being ruled out by necessity. Let me give you an example, we can certainly imagine there being an infinite number of the same book, say a philosophy book. The infinite series is of the exact same book, same indicated author, same content, color, weight, etc. There's nothing incoherent about having such an infinite regress of books. But why is it that book in particular and not some other one, or that author and not some other one, or that subject and not some other subject? Indeed why does the infinite series of identical books even exist at all? The more fundamental question (to the argument from essentially ordered causal series), is why does the infinite series even stay in existence and not simply get annihilated? What (or who) is actualizing that existence potential here and now? THAT is what Shapiro should have been emphasizing, instead of the caricature argument everyone else (mis)-understands about the Aristotelian/Thomistic argument.
But like I said, he simply may have been catering to his audience to make a point.