The axiom of like causes and a general cosmological argument

Brandon put up a post on divine command theory. I asked him if law and morality shared relevantly similar features with art and nature, with an eye to the thesis that there is some unified cosmological argument that could start from either pair. He’d already thought of that. I’m now feeling around for what the general argument for the thesis is.

Start with the axiom that similar properties have similar causes. There is probably no science without it. But things that depend on reason to exist share common properties with things that arise naturally. Positive laws and moral imperatives are both experienced as binding; both human arts and non-human animals act for goals (chimps fish for termites, birds fly south, the digestive tract releases leptin to tell us we’re full…); both the mind and natural things have some constitutive component that is common to many things (an “idea” or “form” or “pattern”) both art and nature follow ordered steps to produce some effect, etc.

Given any one of these common properties, we have three options for the agent-effect relationship of these common properties:

1.) Mind causes nature.

2.) Nature causes mind.

3.) Some tertium quid that is neither mental nor natural causes nature and mind.

The first scenario describes what most would call a supernatural being or god, but so does the third – any agency that is neither mental nor natural must transcend both and so is, by definition, supernatural. Without such transcendence option 3 requires a contradictory agent that is simultaneously mental and non-mental.*

Option 2 can avoid supernaturalism, but it comes at a pretty high cost. Like properties require like causes not just under any way of considering, but precisely under that formality. Now we know that mind can, precisely as mind, give rise to all sorts of non-mental things (this is what cooking does, for example) and so there is no impediment to it giving rise to nature under this description. But for non-mental things to give rise to reason precisely as reason (which is not the same thing as to account for it as, say, a complex brain structure) is to give a rational argument for radical irrationalism.

Sure, this argument has similarities to the EAAN or a slight modification of Nagel’s critique of Darwinism, but I think this means that the like causes axiom is at the basis of both of them. It also allows for a cosmological argument even if we can’t decide between natural law ethics and divine command theory, occasionalism and natural causes, Platonism and Aristotelianism, ID or the Fifth Way, etc.


*Notice that the question is not whether there is some common genus of the mental and natural, but how to describe the agency required to account for the like properties in both. The contradiction does not arise in assuming that the mind is a complex atomic structure while nature is not, and that both are “natural” i.e. atomic structures – but when we try to identify an agent of both that need not be either.

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