Appeal to brute facts in Medieval Cosmological arguments

The critique of cosmological arguments by appeal to brute facts (i.e. we must have something unexplained, so why not the universe?) fails to see that, for these sorts of arguments an explanation does not terminate by finding of fact of any kind, or even with a proposition, but with a subject about which the feature one was trying to explain can be said per se and first of all, or a predicate which is said of a known subject in this way. The search for who dropped the atomic bomb does not terminate in a fact, but with Truman, about whom that predicate is said first of all; the search for what heat is terminated not in a fact but in fire (for Medievals) or molecular motion (for us) which is said of the subject per se and first. Even if we took “Truman dropped the bomb” as a fact, it functions as an explanation so far as we discover an identity between the thing we were looking for (bomb dropper) and the thing we find (Truman).  It’s not just that the predicate and subject are convertible, but convertible in a certain way that we understand as being simply what the thing is, and the cause of all those things that have that feature in a secondary way (the way that, say, Tibbits dropped the bomb or fire is hot).

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2 Comments

  1. ccmnxc said,

    April 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Could one potentially make the argument that while God might not necessarily be classified as a brute fact, the means of arguing for Him by use of the act/potency, essence existence, …etc. distinctions are brute facts (As in, why does reality work in this way as opposed to another?)? I’m not sure what one might ground them in other than God, but if they are grounded in God, they cannot be used in arguing for His existence since they already presuppose Him. Sorry if I’m show-boating my ignorance here, but what would you say?

    • April 17, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      They do not reduce explanations to facts because they do not reduce to propositions. “Quartz is a crystal” is a fact, as is “there is quartz”, but quartz is not a fact. But the explanation of a cosmological argument is not to some composite thing, or some A is B statement.

      I want to go further than this and say that I don’t think any causal explanation is to a fact, except instrumentally. If I’m looking for an explanation of heat, I’m looking for some subject of which heat is said; if I’m looking for what science is, I take it as a predicate having an unknown subject. I’m looking for a subject/predicate relation – not in the grammatical sense but in a logical sense that gives truth – and not a factual statement. This is true for other modes of causal explanation too.


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