March 26, 2007

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

The Conjunction of the Armstrong-Laws is God

D. M. Armstrong is the best known proponent of a currently quite popular understanding of natural laws. Laws so understood are, as a result, called Armstrong-Laws, or A-Laws for short. These are distinguished from L-Laws, named for David Lewis. L-laws are identical to regularities in events (but not all regularities are laws). Unlike L-Laws, A-Laws are actual metaphysical entities, which exist independently of their instances. That is, according to this theory, the Law of Universal Gravitation is a thing out there in the universe (not in the mind) which actually makes massive objects move toward one another. The attraction (no pun intended) of A-Laws is that they seem to explain why there should be regularity in the world at all, whereas L-Laws simply state the regularities. Armstrong-type theories posit that there is actually something out there which makes the regularities occur. Now, despite Armstrong's naturalist/physicalist claims, this thing must be transcendent and non-physical (not any more so than Armstrong's "states of affairs," but that's another story).

Philosophers usually talk for simplicity about laws of the form "all Fs are Gs" or "all Fs are followed by Gs," but, of course, the real laws that physicists talk about are not like this at all. The real laws are things like F=ma or K=(1/2)mv^2. (Note that I say the real laws are like this - we don't actually live in a Newtonian universe, so these are not examples of actual natural laws, or at least not fundamental ones - macrophysics is usually considered by philosophers to be one of the "special sciences" like geology or psychology, and these are supposed to follow from the true theory of microphysics, whatever that might be.) It is not clear to me (perhaps because I haven't read the positive part of Armstrong's book What is a Law of Nature? - I've only read the critique of "naive regularity theory" so far) how Armstrong's specific claim (not held by all Armstrong-type theories) that laws are relations between universals is supposed to deal with these sorts of laws, which aren't actually about Fs being Gs. As a result, there doesn't seem to be any reason why we should posit multiple laws of nature: why not just conjoin them?

If we do this, we've got a transcendent, non-physical entity responsible for the orderliness and regularity of the world, "and this all men call God." Hmm...

Of course, if you are concerned about confusing this entity which, for all we know, is impersonal with personal conceptions of God or with some religious theory, you might not want to give it that name, but at the very least you've got the Heraclitean logos (not to be confused with the Johannine logos), a fundamental ordering principle of the universe, and this certainly seems to be a god-like thing. Of course, if we were actually positing God in a more traditional sense, he is supposed to be a necessary being and to create freely, so this would explain why the laws are as they are, but, whatever the case, we seem to have here at the very least something that might be reasonably described as an impersonal, disinterested (small-g) god, and maybe we've got a good deal more than that.

(For the record, I believe in a sort of regularity theory instead, despite believing that God wills at every moment that the laws hold; this is because I believe that laws are strictly identical with true law statements, where these statements are purely descriptive in nature, or something like that.)

Posted by Kenny at March 26, 2007 6:30 PM
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No, no, no.

I always slap my head when I see students making this error that now you seem guilty of making. It is most prolific and pernicious dead-end line of reasoning, so often made by covert apologists.

Read closely:

Just like the typical theistic conceptions of western, classical theists; abstract objects also are defined as atemporal, aspatial, and, as such, *acausal.* Although "god" might be aspatial and acausal, 'god' is (usually) conceived as a *causal* entity. As such, when you define god with the same characteristics as absract objects, sans acausality, your going to inevitably run into the interaction problem at the end of the road.

This is why so few philosophers since Augustine have seriously pursued the defunct and non sequitur line of thinking like: "immaterial abstract objects exist, therefore an immaterial god can exist too!"

False, Kenny.

Platonism in metaphysics (if there are such "things" as abstract objects) will yield as much to Classical Theism as Metaphysical Naturalism will.

It is a false dichotomy, made by so many sophistic proponents, to believe that if materialism is not true, then supernaturalism is a result.

If abstract objects exist, then they are as natural as anything else that is natural. Concerning *natural laws,* however, you'll equally get nowhere.

Furthermore, it you look beyond your rhetoric, your just making thinly-veiled teleological assumptions.

This is rather understandable, given your dispositions; naturally.

- M

Posted by: Marc at March 27, 2007 7:27 PM

Marc - Thank you for your comments. In response:

1) I resent the claim that this is a 'pernicious' line of reasoning or that I am a 'covert apologist.' I am serious about metaphysical inquiry and ready to go where the arguments lead. I happen to think that they lead to God. If you can disprove me, please feel welcome to do so.

2) I understand A-Laws to be causal. That is, the laws actually make things happen. If this is not what Armstrong means, I would be happy to be corrected as soon as someone can explain what Armstrong does mean.

3) You recognize, I hope, the Aquinas reference: "and this all men call God." This line is intended to imply that if this thing exists, it is the sort of thing people are trying to refer to by saying 'God,' though we haven't yet argued that the object in question has all of the properties associated with the God of classical theism. It is a relatively weak claim. As I said, you've got at least the Heraclitean logos. You might not want to call that God, because it hasn't been shown to be very much like the God of classical theism (but, then again, neither is Spinoza's God). If you don't want to call it God, I won't argue with you, but you must admit that the similarities are significant.

4) A-Laws are mysterious, abstract entities, which is precisely why Lewis doesn't like them. I happen to think that positing some sort of god would make things less mysterious rather than more at this point, and that this is probably simpler than what Armstrong is proposing.

5) "If abstract objects exist, then they are as natural as anything else that is natural." How do you define 'natural'? David Lewis doesn't seem to think that physicalists/naturalists should accept A-Laws for precisely this reason. What is it that makes a natural law - one which actually exists metaphysically and independently and literally governs the unfolding of events in the world - fundamentally different from a supernatural entity? Just the name?

6) There's nothing 'veiled' about my teleological assumptions, and I resent the accusation of rhetoric. I do happen to think that if what we are looking for is an explanation of why there should be any order in nature at all, then what we need is a theology. I happen to think that no other sort of explanation will suffice. Prior to the 19th century, a long and venerable tradition of philosophers much smarter than myself believed this as well, and the viewpoint is by no means dead in contemporary philosophy (though it is certainly now confined to a small minority of legitimate academic philosophers).

If there are specific corrections that need to be made to my understanding of the views of laws taken by Armstrong and Lewis which you would like to bring up, or if there are philosophical arguments that you would like to bring against my position, I would be very grateful for your input.

If you prefer to slap your head, question the sincerity of my philosophical inquiries, refer to my lines of argument as "pernicious," "dead-end," "defunct" "non sequitur" and "rhetorical" without pointing out the nature of the specific errors (which, I should point out, is itself a rhetorical tactic), I don't think any of that is very helpful.

The one really useful thing you have brought up, between your various accusations, is the question of whether A-Laws are really intended to be causal, and whether ascribing causal powers to non-physical entities is problematic. Both of these questions are certainly worthy of serious inquiry; thank you for bringing them up.

Posted by: Kenny at March 28, 2007 1:31 AM

Let me be a little more clear about the Aquinas reference. Aquinas already believes in God, and then makes these arguments that show that something exists - a first mover, an uncaused first cause, etc. - and then he states that that thing is identical with the entity that he calls God.

Now, I already believe in God. I read about these Armstrong-Laws. At first, my response is "that's absurd - clearly no such things exist." But later, I rethink this position and I say, "well, suppose there is only one fundamental law (it might be highly conjunctive) and give it all the properties of an A-Law. There is something like that in the world! That something is God." Now, part of the reason I don't think Armstrong's theory of laws is any good is that I don't think we should say that God is the fundamental law of nature; instead, if we're theists, we should say that God makes the fundamental law of nature hold. Thus we need a different account of what the law is, and David Lewis's Humean Supervenience idea will do nicely.

Posted by: Kenny at March 28, 2007 1:47 AM

The site looks great ! Thanks for all your help ( past, present and future !)

Posted by: morganusvitus at April 5, 2007 9:14 AM

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