Monday, January 17, 2005

Aseity and Causa-Suity: Positive or Privative?

I argued, or rather I stated, that aseity is to be taken in a privative rather than in a positive sense. Thus, to say that God is from himself is not to say that God causes himself to exist or creates himself; it is to say that God is not from another: He is uncaused rather than self-causing. One reason to favor the privative rather than the positive reading is that it avoids the apparent absurdity of saying that a thing causes itself to exist. For if a thing’s existence is a logically prior condition of its exercising causality, and God causes himself to exist, then God’s existence is logically prior to God’s existence – which is absurd. One might think to avoid this conclusion by distinguishing two parts in God, a causing part and a caused part. But that would violate the divine simplicity according to which there is no composition of any sort within God. (Whether divine simplicity is consistent with tri-unity will be taken up in a later post.)

Jason Pratt takes issue with my privative reading of ‘aseity,’ ‘causa sui,’ and related expressions. He gives essentially the following argument for the thesis that nothing uncaused exists.

a) Contradictions do not exist.

BV: I suppose what you want to say is that no contradictions are true. In any case, no use of this premise is made below.

b) The Independent Fact [God] must exist.

c) From nothing comes nothing

Therefore

d) Nothing uncaused exists (from (c)).

BV: (d) does not follow from (c). The truth of (c) is consistent with the falsity of (d). No doubt, ex nihilo nihil fit. But that is consistent with saying that God is a necessary being, one that exists in all possible worlds, but is not caused by anything (not even himself) to exist in any of those world. The inferential linkage in Pratt’s argument breaks down at this point. So I have been given no good reason to abandon my privative reading of the phrases in question.

Therefore

e) The Independent Fact must be caused (from (b) and (d))

Therefore

f) The I.F. depends on nothing more primary than it is (from (b))

Therefore

g) the I.F. is self-causing (from (f) and (e))

Therefore

h) All and any other existing things depend on the I.F. (from (b))

Therefore

i) Only the I.F. is or ever can be self-causing (from (g) and (h).