Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Question to Kairosfocus

I am starting to come around to the way of thinking espoused by Kairosfocus, who has argued that we must build our worldviews from first principles and compare how different worldviews address various difficulties. The comparative aspect is important. If we have proper grasp of a fact--as in, for instance, an apple falling to earth--we should be able to reconcile the fact and the worldview.

A worldview in which apples do not fall to earth (yes, I understand that "fall" is a relative term) is less compatible with the facts than other views in which falling makes sense. The cumulative effect of comparing different worldviews against many--maybe dozens--of difficulties is to give one confidence in the smallest possible set of views. Some views may be very warranted. Maybe only one view is most warranted.

I want to build a worldview, then. Let's begin with first principles, which I take from Kairosfocus:
[a] A thing, A, is what it is (the law of identity);
[b] A thing, A, cannot at once be and not-be (the law of non-contradiction);
[c] A thing, A, is or it is not, but not both or neither (the law of the excluded middle).
I wholeheartedly and unreservedly accept all three principles. Kairosfocus and I stand in 100-percent agreement. I should also mention that I accept Kairosfocus is here asking us to operate on the macro, everyday level. We are not at a point where it makes sense to engage whatever difficulties emerge from considering reality at the quantum level.

With some common ground established, I hope Kairosfocus will clear up my confusion with the fourth principle he brings in:
We thus see the principle of cause and effect. That is,
[d] if something has a beginning or may cease from being -- i.e. it is contingent -- it has a cause.
Common-sense rationality, decision-making and science alike are founded on this principle of right reason: if an event happens, why -- and, how? If something begins or ceases to exist, why and how? If something is sustained in existence, what factors contribute to, promote or constrain that effect or process, how? The answers to these questions are causes.

Without the reality behind the concept of cause the very idea of laws of nature would make no sense: events would happen anywhere, anytime, with no intelligible reason or constraint.
Before I ask Kairosfocus a question about principle [d], the principle of cause and effect, I want to observe that [d] bears no direct relationship to principles [a] through [c]. One cannot get from the first three to the fourth, in other words. Principle [c], for instance, contains nothing in it (as formulated) to imply that thing A has a history. Although principles [a] - [c] define a relationship between thing A and the rest of the universe, these principles mainly address the relationship of thing A with itself.

I also observe that the phrasing of [d] is different than [a] -[c], and this is where my question comes in:
  • The "if" is a conditional; it introduces a test condition.
  • The test concerns whether something has a beginning or not, and whether something may cease from being or not.
  • A workable test condition needs to be able to verify all results of the test:
    • Thing A has a beginning.
    • Thing A may cease from being.
    • Thing A does not have a beginning.
    • Thing A may not cease from being.
  • If we cannot verify some results--that is, if we have no way to confirm results--then our test is flawed and needs improvement.
My question to Kairosfocus, then is simply this: What tests determine whether a thing does not have a beginning or may not cease from being?

I hope that Kairosfocus sees this as the serious, on-point question it is. It's directly relevant because principle [d] could be phrased more parsimoniously, like so:
[d-1] A thing, A, has a beginning or may cease from being. A thing, A, therefore, has a cause.
I am willing to accept [d-1]; it seems as self-evident and stable as principles [a] - [c]. It locates thing A in time without making an issue of location.

I suspect, however, that Kairosfocus believes temporality ought to be a test condition. That is, I think he wants to stand by [d] as formulated. But if he wants to keep [d], then I wish to have clarification so that I can also accept it. That clarification is to understand what the test is we are using to distinguish one class of things--those which have a beginning or may cease from being--from a second class of things--those which do not have a beginning or may not cease from being.


Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.