Clarification on the PSR

A: You accept the basic difference that a cause makes something exist and a reason makes something known?

B: That seems fine.

A: But then what sense can we make of the principle of sufficient reason? By substitution, it would be the claim that something always suffices to make itself known.

B: Huh?

A: But I don’t know how to take this. Are we saying that there must always be something that suffices to make something known to us or to some intellect or another (even a virtuous, ideal, angelic, blessed, or divine intellect)

B: Well, the principle wouldn’t be much good unless we made the claimed it for ourselves.

A: Right. So we must be claiming that there are no reasons that can arise in an intellect other than our own. But more than that, they have to arise in human intellects that lack moral and intellectual virtues or are not enjoying the beatific vision. For that matter, the reasons should be evident even to children that first get the use of reason.

B: All right, but that’s crazy. The PSR should mean that a sufficient reason can always arise in an intellect disposed to receive it.

A: But then all we’re saying is that if something can get a reason there is a reason it can get. And you no longer can say that there has to be a sufficient reason for us but only for some intellect or another. But what good will it do for my reasoning to say that there will always be a reason for, say, a perfectly virtuous intellect with a 6-sigma IQ, or for the three highest choirs of angels, or even for the divine logos? We both agree that a ten-year-old kid with a terrible character and an IQ of 68 doesn’t have what it takes to sufficiently make something known in its intellect, so where – roughly speaking of course – do intellects hit that threshold where they get sufficient reasons for everything?

B: When you put it like that, it seems like only God knows the PSR.

A: But what in the world would God need a principle of reasoning for?

B: He knows science, doesn’t he?

A: Not in the sense that he has to puzzle things out or actualize some latent powers to know things.

B: So then the only one who could know the PSR can’t have it.

A: But maybe we missed a crucial distinction between a reason that something is and a reason why or what something is.  We can prove that there are infinite prime numbers without knowing what they are.

B: That’s a good example, since it would be impossible to know what they are.

A: Thanks. So are we saying that all intellects are capable of knowing that there must be a reason for something without claiming they can know what the reason is?

B: Yes.

A: But we understand this leaves open the possibility that it is impossible for us (or for us in the state we’re in) to know what the reason is?

B: Exactly.

A: It seems to me this still doesn’t get past the basic problem that we can’t identify where intellects universally start getting a sufficient-reason-that. But even leaving that problem aside, isn’t the whole point of science to move beyond the reason that something is true?  

B: Absolutely. Knowledge that is inferior to knowing why or what, and no one would choose the inferior.

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1 Comment

  1. Loreen Lee said,

    December 23, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Yes. I think I understand that ‘reason’ and even ‘justification’ are ‘epistemological concepts’?’ But cause – yes, is ontologically based even in all of Aristotle’s four-five causes? What about teleology, and ‘Purpose’. What about ‘reasoned goals’, or something?


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