A Surprisingly Good Article on the Cosmological Argument

It’s from the Richmond Journal of Philosophy, and I’m pleasantly surprised by its conclusions and seemingly accurate depiction Aquinas’s views (it gives a reconstruction of his argument based on the first three of the five ways).

Anyway, here’s its response to the objection that I gave in my previous post (Go check it out if you want a little more context):

This might be clearer by way of example. Consider my asking why there is a bronze horse opposite the Hospital of St. Mark in Venice. In reply, I might be told that it’s because the sculptor Verrocchio made it. And if I then asked why he made it, I might be told that it was because the Republic of Venice commissioned it to celebrate the life of the mercenary Colleoni. And again, if I asked why they did this, I might be told it was because Venice needed Colleoni’s protection, and he had also left a lot of money to the city requesting a statue be built of himself. Now Aquinas understandably believes that this process of explanation must itself mirror a causal process of events. Furthermore, the reality of later events derives from the reality of previous events. If the causal process were to be infinite, events would be infinitely borrowing their reality from previous events, but there would nothing real to initiate this act of borrowing. It would be analogous to claiming that I could possess money, if I borrow it from someone else, who borrows it from someone else, etc., even if there was no original money! There must therefore be a real event to initiate the process of bringing about other events – and this is the first cause.

Against Aquinas’ second way, we might claim with Bertrand Russell (1964) that the argument is confused. For although all events within the universe involve causes, we are wrong to believe that the universe as a whole assumes a first cause. This would be similar to claiming that because every human-being has a mother, the human race as a whole must have a mother.[10]

Russell’s argument however, does not seem to be fatal.[11] Considering the analogy, Aquinas is not claiming that because events within the universe (analogous to human-beings) have distinct causes (analogous to mothers) therefore the universe as a whole has a distinct cause (analogous to yet another mother). Aquinas is rather claiming that the first cause is not identical to any distinct cause – it is not analogous to yet another mother. The first cause is the sufficient reason that allows us to make sense of all the distinct causes. And as Copleston notes, Aquinas’ position does not therefore fall into self-contradiction – both claiming that everything has a cause, and at the same time claiming that there is something which has no cause (God). He is only claiming that things that change or are formed or come into existence need a cause. The origin of change, formation or existence does not itself need a cause.

I suggest reading the whole thing, it’s great stuff, but it’s nice to see my own fumbling attempts at creating objections and rebuttals being presented in a more, shall we say, formal, format.

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