## Replacing infinite regress with the totality of phenomena in cosmological arguments

I think that the denial of an infinite regress in cosmological arguments is self-evident (since an appeal to infinite causes no more explains the effect than the stability of the earth can be explained as the effect of turtles all the way down) but it’s not necessary to appeal to this denial to make a cosmological argument. Avicenna, for example, replaces this step in the argument with what might be called an appeal to the insufficiency of the totality, regardless of whether the totality is infinite or finite.

Consider the First Way, which starts by observing the existence of motion among moved movers. Next, rather than denying that a series of movers can be infinite, instead consider the totality of motions by moved movers. This totality is either caused to move by the whole, or by some part. But if some part moves all the others, then that part is an unmoved mover (which is impossible, since it is one of the totality of moved movers) and if the whole is the source of motion, this either means every part is an unmoved mover (same problem as before) or we are talking about the whole in opposition to all of its parts; but there is no such thing as a whole in opposition to all its parts.

Even if one took issue with the reasons given, the basic sense is to consider the totality of all things established at the first stage of the cosmological argument, and then to say that the totality, whether considered as all its parts or some of them,  cannot account for what is observed at this first stage.

1. #### thenyssan said,

February 21, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Nice. Is there an easy way to access the Avicenna text on-line? Citation?

I assume you mean the totality of motions, not limited to a particular time, but across all time–the totality of motions in the “space time block” as the cool kids like to say.

What happens if you deny that there is a whole? If you take an infinite past, then you could deny that there is a totality of motions–it’s undefined. I take the FM argument to work for infinite-past universes, but I think you might lose that advantage on this Avicenna approach.

(I think this kind of eternal universe is exactly what many pop-naturalists are implicitly arguing from)

• #### James Chastek said,

February 21, 2013 at 8:23 pm

easy way to access the Avicenna text on-line? Citation?

I noodled around for a while looking for the text (I thought it was in the Shifa somewhere). Came up with nothing. There is a great summary of the argument in a marvelous compendium of articles from various authors called The Ultimate Why Question, edited by John Wippel.

What happens if you deny that there is a whole? If you take an infinite past, then you could deny that there is a totality of motions–it’s undefined.

Avicenna is explicit on this: “the totality” can be infinite or finite. It’s whatever “the all” is. It might be better to reformulate what I said here with “all” and “some” as opposed to whole and part.

I think this kind of eternal universe is exactly what many pop-naturalists are implicitly arguing from

Scientific method demands infinite natural causes, and it will always find them. Hypotheses are always taken from contraries, and the scientist can always take the one that keeps the causal train going. He can either hypothesize a God that the universe will terminate in or another universe (or something else) to derive his universes from.

Or maybe not. Sooner or later the scientist has to get a view of the sort of universe his hypotheses are building up, and he will see it as created.

2. #### Mashsha'i said,

February 25, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Good sir,

the argument which you’ve alluded to here, i.e., with ‘infinitum actu non datur’ premise explicitly ruled out, is actually not in the Healing. it’s rather in the metaphysics of the Salvation, IX.12 and in the Directives and Remarks, section IV.

thenyssan,

for an English translation of the relevant section from the Salvation, see ‘Classical Arabic Philosophy; an anthology of sources’ by McGinnis and Reisman, pp.214-215. i’ve also got some posts on it on my blog if you’re interested.

take care.

• #### thenyssan said,

February 26, 2013 at 9:11 am

Most excellent. Thank you very much.