Parsing Theories of Eveything in Terms of Modal Identities & Being  (essential, hypostatic & formal)

I’ve often reflected on how the manner in which one approaches the notion of formal causation, alone, can hold the key to which metaphysical door one chooses to walk through. I don’t have the time or interest to explicate it all, presently, but some may capture where I’m headed from this skeletal outline, below.

I will suggest this – no serious scientist or philosopher would, nowadays, consider human symbolic consciousness as anything other than immaterial. This is to further suggest that no physicalist approach can be coherently advanced without an openness to the reality of formal causation.

Finally, metaphysics remains alive & kicking. Those who, in their anxiety to annihilate metaphysics, deny formal causation, will also do away with our highly speculative theoretic sciences, for formal causation is the epistemic fulcrum by which all moderate realisms accomplish their metaphysical heavy lifting, heuristically.

Aristotelian Hylomorphism – robustly conceives formal causes

  • 1) affirms modes of identity

  • 2) derives modes of being from modes of identity

  • 3) employs formal identity for both nondeterminate & determinate realities

Consequences: as exploratory heuristic, fosters research programs, eminently actionable – existentially, consistent with humanity’s common sense & sensibilities and with its great & indigenous religious traditions

Agnostic Physicalism – open to formal causation

  • 1) consistent with modes of identity

  • 2) derives modes of being from modes of identity

  • 3) ephemeral entities, hypostatically, are essentially physical

  • 4) employs formal identity & being for realities, bracketing in/determinacies

  • 5) ontologically reductive physicalism devolves into materialism

  • 6) nonreductive physicalism could reconcile with hylomorphism

Consequences: forecloses on research programs

Materialist Monism – denies formal causation

  • 1) consistent with essential & hypostatic modes of identity

  • 2) ephemeral exemplifications, hypostatically, are essentially material

  • 3) considers formal realities, whether modes of identity or of being, nonsensical

Consequences: reduces to ultimate nihilism & makes free will wholly illusory

Idealist Monism – affirms formal causation practically & ephemerally not essentially & eternally

  • 1) consistent with essential & hypostatic modes of identity & qualified formal identity

  • 2) ephemeral exemplifications, hypostatically, are essentially intentional

  • 3) considers formal realities, whether modes of identity or of being, epiphenomenal

Consequences: principle of sufficient reason on steroids, wreaks havoc with free will, reduces to pantheism

In some sense, naturalism is a more expansive concept than physicalism which is more expansive than materialism. Furthermore, these concepts must be further parsed to specify whether they are being employed methodologically (i.e. epistemologically) and/or philosophically (i.e. ontologically) as well as ephemerally & determinately and/or eternally & nondeterminately (e.g. axiomata).

For its part, naturalism doesn’t a priori specify its primitives (e.g. spatio-tempero-materio-energetic, i.e. physicalism and/or consciousness), while physicalism doesn’t deny formal realities, whereas materialism does (both ephemerally & eternally).

Why I Have No Metaphysic

My adolescent fascinations and undergraduate & graduate preoccupations were rather narrowly focused on the behavioral sciences. And not just at the macro-levels of ethology, ecology & comparative psychology, but at the nuts & bolts level of brain biochemistry.

One year, in high school, I advanced to and participated in the International Science & Engineering Fair, having constructed a rather colossal, rube-goldbergian perfusion apparatus, designed to keep rat livers alive, in vitro, while conducting biochemical experiments on them.

That same year, I had also worked with a friend on memory transfer experiments. She had already accomplished primitive memory transfers between classically conditioned & naïve recipient planaria (flatworms), so, I suggested we take that behavioral investigation to another phylogenetic level. You see, in what were to me the Disney-like stacks of the dark aisles of the LSU library, I had previously encountered the wondrous mysterium fascinans of mammalian memory transfer research.

So, we acquired the requisite hamsters, trained some in mazes, extracted their brain RNA and injected it into their untrained siblings. A half-century later, when I pass that little pine grove where we buried them all, I rather wistfully recall their sacrifice, less sure now than then whether it was truly for the sake of science.

Let’s just leave it at that.

In college, hyper-motivated to get out of the classroom and back into the boundless tremendum of those library stacks and the endless fascinans of the laboratory, I hardly knew where to focus degree-wise. No particular curriculum fully accommodated my feverish interest in being able to better account for animal and human behaviors, so to speak, reductively. I therefore accelerated my graduate school entrance by craftily employing a general studies degree program. Such programs “generally” foster a rather lax approach that allows one to optimally navigate past difficult subject matters, but I exploited its flexibility to pull off the informal equivalent of a triple major with roughly 30+ hours each in chemistry and psychology coupled with even more coursework in zoology, much of that in independent research. So, it was thereby that I had thus ended up spending more than three years of undergraduate & graduate work in a neuroendocrinology lab that had previously, for example, figured out certain of the physiological mechanisms of bird migration. Oversimplifying things, we could get these critters to fly north versus south with specifically timed hormonal injections!

It was also thereby that I had thus advanced my education with a veritable dearth of arts and humanities coursework.

“Advanced my education,” of course, if employed as a true term of art, would not really apply to one who, fifty years hence, has yet to take a single philosophy or theology course, although I did take a single course in literature, another perhaps in history, for what that’s worth.

No, for me, any employment of that phrase more so resembles the meaning behind the Bonnie & Clyde lyric, “advanced their reputation and made their graduation into the banking business.” Turns out, I retired from banking, having served on various venues as chairman, president & chief executive officer. I won’t suffer you that digression even though it would have deep spiritual implications, more than tangential to … what’s our topic? … oh, yeah, metaphysics.

Throughout these very same time periods, my other youthful preoccupations had me actively engaged with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, youth retreat movements and liturgical music ministries, all great places, by the way, to meet nice girls, which was yet another major and mesmerizing preoccupation of mine. I mention my religious orientation only by way of emphasizing why I suffered neither existential angst about nor epistemic incongruities from my heavily reductionist behavioral bent. It wasn’t reductionistic by virtue of the fact that a Loyola Jesuit had already introduced me to the distinction between primary and secondary causality. That was the only metaphysics I needed to continue gleefully on my way while my more fundamentalistic friends were suffering crises of faith over little things such as … oh, let me think … evolution.

Throughout all of my coursework and research, especially when engaging the most highly speculative theoretical aspects of each scientific discipline that I had studied, I rather subconsciously and implicitly cultivated what I’ve now come to appreciate as a healthy aporetic sense. I became very aware that, in most every discipline, empirical research would inevitably be encountered by descriptive aporia, which, in turn, developed into various interpretive schools, each subscribing to an approach that variously over- and/or under- emphasized distinct aspects of phenomena, whether focused on specific entities, in and of themselves, or on their properties, or on their relations, inner or outer.

By distinct, I’d later come to appreciate, I mean to suggest that they were aspiring to develop speculative conceptions that make a practical difference.

The practical differences implied by various theoretical conceptions can take a long time in coming, empirically. I began to notice this pattern in college.

In physics, I saw how, while empirical quantum mechanics was indisputable, different schools of quantum interpretation proliferated. In cosmology, different cosmogonal models competed. In biology, different accounts of life’s origins grappled with the inexplicable leap from physics and chemistry to biology. In cognitive psychology, different philosophies of mind modeled the origins of animal sentience. In anthropology, semioticians devised conceptual distinctions in explanatory attempts to understand how symbolic language could arise from mere icons and indexes, taking us beyond a mere sentience to a robust sapience.

I never bothered to invest very much in one or the other interpretation. I was content, rather, to try to more so understand what their particular questions were ABOUT, less so what their proposed answers, sometimes pretentiously, suggested. My early grasp of the rudimentary distinction between primary and secondary causation, as conveyed by those happy charismatic Jesuits, who, to me, embodied both the epitome of erudition and pinnacle of evangelical joy, later evolved into more sophisticated intuitions, inchoate early on to be sure, but, later articulated in such heuristics as Gödel’s theorems, Agrippa’s trilemma, Peter Suber’s “problems of beginning” and other safeguards against epistemic hubris.

I had implicitly rejected any tidy epistemic compartmentalizations of supposedly non-overlapping magisteria and approached reality with a single, fallibilist epistemology. That’s to say that, to me, epistemology is epistemology is epistemology.

There are no such things as strictly religious or metaphysical or scientific epistemologies. My youthful reductive tendencies have not been shaken, but neither have they devolved into any unmitigated positivisms or vulgar pragmatisms.

None of this is to deny that certain ontologies, quantum interpretations, cosmogonal models, biogenetic theories, philosophies of mind or language origin anthropologies wouldn’t have even profound implications, existentially, regarding, for example, free will, or theologically regarding, the reality of God.

Those interpretations do introduce conceptual distinctions that can have profound practical implications. I just never got terribly engaged by arguments for or against such as solipsism or free will, much less first principles. Common sense abductions, reductio ad absurdums and methodological stipulations remain – not only necessary, but – sufficient for those types of realities without the further “benefit” of tautological deductions, formal proofs or metaphysical excursions.

My vague God-conceptions have always taken refuge – not in reality’s metaphysical gaps and theoretic aporia, but – at its perimeters, its initial, boundary & limit conditions, its axiomatic contours as defended by such epistemic bulwarks as, again, Gödel-like implications, Agrippa’s trilemma and Suber’s “problems of beginning.”

So, yes, I do rather pragmatically, not just a priori, eschew certain worldviews without feeling the need to engage in atheological mud-wrestling.

And I do very much appreciate that not all tautologies are equally taut vis a vis embracing epistemic virtue and avoiding epistemic vice. But even the best interpretations of our highly speculative theoretical sciences have not yet yielded a normalization of gravity and quantum mechanics, a biopoietic account of life origins, a sentiopoietic account of qualia, a sapiopoietic account of symbolic language.

So, I content myself by simply bookmarking these diverse aporia in terms of their ABOUTNESS that I can better inventory the nature of the questions they are asking in their methodological probes without overinvesting in the nature of the answers they pretend to proffer with their metaphysical conclusions. Such conclusions are too often not merely embedded in the premises and presuppositions of such metaphysical argumentation but in their very definitions.

The aboutnesses most often under consideration include (using some personal, idiosyncratic neologisms) the following aporia:

1) veldo-poietic regarding field origins that appear teleo-potent or end-unbounded;

2) cosmo-poietic regarding physical realities that appear teleo-matic or end-stated;

3) bio-poietic regarding life origins that appear teleo-nomic or end-directed;

4) sentio-poietic regarding sentience origins that appear teleo-qualic or end-purposed; and

5) sapio-poietic regarding language origins that appear robustly teleo-logic or end-intended.

In terms of aboutness, different interpretations at each emergent level employ metaphorical languages that are largely incommunicative in the other levels. This is to recognize, for example, that, if we reconciled quantum mechanics with gravity today, we’d be no closer, tomorrow, to delivering an adequate account of biogenesis, much less a philosophy of mind with a sufficient explanatory adequacy, much much less solve the riddles of indeterminacy that inhere in any account of free will.

Above, I referenced entities, properties and their inner & outer relations. In my encounters with different accounts of reality’s various emergent levels of aboutness, I noticed that, whichever chosen root metaphor, whether of substances, relations, processes, experiences or otherwise, each account variously dealt with those phenomenal categories as well as addressed the temporality of past, present & future, or possibilities, actualities, probabilities & necessities. Transcending the various root metaphors were vague conceptions like act & potency, which seemed to me like helpful placeholders for any ontology.

Because my passion had always been focused on the epistemic reduction of behavior, I was especially drawn to semiotic emergentist accounts that addressed human language origins. It was in my reading regarding same that I encountered for the first time, in a meaningful way, how indispensable were Aristotelian conceptions of formal & final causes, in addition to such as efficient, material, instrumental, exemplary & imaginal causes.

Nothing advanced my grasp of such teleodynamics more than my friendship with & generous tutelage by Ursula Goodenough, who’s long collaborated with her good friend Terrence Deacon regarding all things biologically emergent for decades. Introduced by a mutual friend, I recognized in their work the very same Peircean themes I had first grappled with when reading the philosophy & theology of the late Jesuit, Don Gelpi. Why was I reading him? Only because, fifty years ago, he was one of those crazy smart & crazy happy Jesuits, whom I saw every Friday night at Loyola prayer meetings.

So, there I was, outfitted with a triadic heuristic that approached vague phenomena, from the quantum through the mental, not with any metaphysic or root metaphor, but using placeholders like entities, properties & relations; possibilities, actualities & probabilities; past, present & future; act & potency; being, reality & existence; in/determined & in/determinable; and the full suite of Aristotelian causes, which was proving to be a useful epistemic heuristic for folks of otherwise diverse ontological persuasions, including physicalists. (I know that raises some questions for many but I’ve addressed it elsewhere at length and it’s not my purpose to flesh that out here). I will say this, however, as an emergentist, I do not subscribe to such distinctions as others often draw between strong & weak emergence, weak & strong supervenience. (I travel light, sans metaphysic, sans supervenience & sans filioque. It’s all of one fabric. Ha ha!)

Keep in mind, very little of the meta-metaphysical discussion consideration above had anything to do with my approach to theology, which, in my life, otherwise had focused on formative spirituality, the ascetical & mystical and interreligious dialogue. Instead, my biological interests had begun to intersect philosophy of mind (e.g. Deacon versus Dennett & Dawkins) and Aristotelian emergentist accounts made for a great heuristic.

I only ever employed such heuristics, as I mentioned above, to bookmark aporia, different types of aboutness, inventory the relevant questions & map concepts across competing interpretations. I otherwise remained and remain a metaphysical agnostic, a realist, to be sure, but with no interest in inhabiting any given system.

I suppose you could say that I’m putting off any serious metaphysical excitement and over-the-top ontological enthusiasm for any given theology of nature until I see how the ontology that underwrites same has normalized gravity & quantum mechanics, or proved empirically fruitful with its biogenetic stance or philosophy of mind deliverances.

So, my modest emergentist heuristic doesn’t really do natural theology. That task can be done with a Peircean-like abduction of the Ens Necessarium in a single afternoon’s parlor sitting, not explicitly employing Peirce, mind you, just competently engaging one’s common sense. We will typically bring three musements into play, whether inchoately or reflectively:

1) a mereological intuition regarding the relations between reality’s parts & wholes;

2) a metaphysical intuition reflecting some particular root metaphor for reality’s entities & their properties; and

3) an epistemic intuition (usually involving some version of the principle of sufficient reason) as to whether, regarding reality’s primitives & axioms, those are merely brute or clearly fruit about which reality, in principle or not, remains mute.

My own intuition suggests that, whichever stances one presupposes, mereologically, metaphysically or epistemically, will lead to an abduction of some Ens Necessarium, propositionally. Various quidditative attributes then get intuitively assigned, which can (presupposing an epistemic virtue not all attain) lead to competing equiplausible interpretations of reality writ large, which then get adjudicated mostly dispositionally by- not a vulgar, but – a semiotic realist pragmatism, wherein a plurality of defensible stances (metaphysical, even moral) can reasonably, hopefully peacably, coexist due to – not any relativism, emotivism or voluntarism, but – a metaphysical fallibilism.

Neither does my heuristic do theologies of nature. It only provides me some conceptual placeholders to map whatever it seems to me to be that competing stances happen to be talking about in terms of aboutness.

In other words, I’m rather content to say that something like Scotus’ formal distinction appears at stake, here; something like Thomas’ analogy of being, there; something like Peirce’s distinctions between Being, Reality & existence, here.

And I want to affirm, over against any silly ignosticism, that such talk is meaningful, existentially & theotically, even while insisting it has serious limits, speculatively.

I do rather believe that serious formal argumentation can take place, ontologically & modally, even syllogistically, as long as one guarantees the conceptual compatibility of one’s quidditative God-conceptions employing only apophatic predications. I think one can see, however, how that type of argumentation crosses only a very limited epistemic distance, rationally?

What about other positive God-conceptions? Can they be meaningful?

Well, semantically & univocally, I believe so. But with the caveat that, for dang sure, absent a robust root metaphor that travels up & down the great chain of being gifting us robustly empirical deliverances regarding our quotidian, finite, determinate & temporal realities, why in the world, much less out of this world, would we over-invest in their speculative conclusions regarding ethereal, infinite, indeterminate & eternal realities?

The same epistemic critique applies to any ontological analogy or semantical univocity of being. Our metaphors will collapse at pretty much the same velocity as they cascade.

I’ve addressed elsewhere why, beyond our onto-theological natural theologies & theo-ontological theologies of nature, which do aspire to systematic & syllogistic argumentation via root metaphors, most of our employment of analogies & metaphors otherwise more so amounts to the informal theophanic God-talk of our common sense & sensibilities.

And I’ve defended it as eminently actionable, existentially, and as soulfully dispositional, communally, aesthetically, normatively & liberatively, all which, integrally & confluently, can, over time, reasonably raise our confidence in all things hoped for, our convictions of things unseen and certainties regarding our practical & moral responses, relationally, to God, others, cosmos & even oneself.

Many seem to lose track, even in the very same conversations, of how they segue from onto-theology to theo-ontology to theophanic discourse and back, leading to all manner of category errors. Are we talking about God’s being, here? His ousia? And, there, a particular hypostatic thatness? Or, now, the divine energies? Or, then, the Reality of the Ens Necessarium? His will or intellect? Essential attributes or Cambridge properties? Determinate or indeterminate reality? Divine simplicity or freedom?

The categories in which we traffic, non-metaphysically via revelation, shouldn’t be facilely mapped to the theo-ontological categories of our metaphysics presupposing they can syllogistically overcome our theologically speculative aporia. These mapping exercises, rather, serve the missiological imperatives of Gospel inculturation, which presuppose a comprehensive epistemic journey, from start to finish, through Lonergan’s theological methods: research, interpretation, history, dialectics, foundations, doctrines, systematics and communications. The communication of an inculturated Gospel will often involve a translation between different metaphysical idioms. Not only that, as addressed above, even within a given metaphysic, manifold interpretations can compete. Further complicating translation efforts, the metaphysical idioms under consideration may be appropriated within any given culture more so implicitly and inchoately, less so explicitly and reflectively, all of this coming into play even in the etymological roots of each language’s concepts.

Why even expect our onto-theologies and theo-ontologies to overcome the aporia of our speculative, systematic theologies, before we’ve even see what Scotism & Thomism, Whitehead & Hartshorne, or, for that matter, Aristotle or Plato, have done with gravity & quantum mechanics or biogenesis?

So, when, at last, I did consciously engage natural theologies & theologies of nature, I had come from the world of the highly speculative, theoretical sciences, where I had learned of the time-honored efficacies of the long-banished Aristotelian formal & final causations and had become aware of the epistemic cul de sacs of logical positivisms & radical empiricisms. I had also learned of the tremendous heuristic value of the very vague categories of act & potency, determinacies & indeterminacies, vagueness & generality.

I came to theology already bearing the gift of my epistemic heuristic and discovered in its onto-theological & theo-ontological discourse that some of the vary same aboutnesses and causations and phenomenological categories were in play!

However, I also brought with me the same degree of epistemic humility that inhered in a fallibilist approach.

And, in theology, as in science, I encountered, in no too few theologians, the very same levels of unjustified epistemic hubris that I had witnessed among certain scientists.

But I had, still have, little interest in becoming a Scotist or Whiteheadian. And my introduction to Thomism was Maritain’s existential approach because it was the vehicle which had first taken me into serious interreligious dialogue. Thereafter, I soon learned there were Aristotelian, Transcendental, Analytic, Phenomenological, Process, Neo-Scholastic and Semiotic schools of Thomism, among others. I haven’t inhabited any of those either. Neither do I buy into Peirce’s metaphysical musings, only finding his phenomenological categories to be great conceptual placeholders.

I remain, therefore, for the most part, a thoroughgoing metaphysical agnostic.

Don’t get me wrong, though.

I do applaud those who engage fully any given school within onto-theological & theo-ontological enterprises, as well as regarding natural law deontologies.

I only ever insist, however, that …

any given metaphysic not be delivered with a confidence level that outruns its heuristic value in physics …

that our deontologies should be delivered at least as modestly as our ontologies are tentative …

that the normative impetus imparted to any epistemic stance be commensurate with the evidentiary standards it’s already met.

Christianity remains in search of a metaphysic?

So do I.

The Re-Enchantment of a never, truly disenchanted Reality

It’s not so much choices of root metaphor, metaphysically, or whole-part stances, mereologically, that will logically force an a/theological conclusion or foreclose divine aseity & human freedom.

Rather, it’s facile conceptions of telos – not predicated equivocally as teloi.

Metaphysical & mereological choices merely leave different questions begging, eg “Why not rather nothing?” changes to “Why not rather something else?”

Causal realities require more nuance than generally employed, not only differentiating ultimate & temporal teloi, but even within the created order of determinate realities, recognizing the plurality of teloi presenting as different kinds of “aboutness.”

These telic realities will reflect various degrees of indeterminacy, which, while ontologically suggestive, remain epistemically undecidable.

Couple a much too facile & univocal conception of telos to the Principle of Sufficient Reason [PSR] with any metaphysic cum mereology du jour — and

that naive realism will morph mere methodological stipulations into full blown metaphysical philosophies, e.g. Spinozan (PSR on steroids), Denettian-Dawkinsian materialism & rationalistic theisms, which, being sylly, rely – not on faith, but – syllogisms.

A rigorous emergentism has now rehabilitated, semiotically, the never truly disabled formal-final causes, re-enchanting our never truly dis-enchanted reality.

These telic causal joints don’t present as metaphysical gaps into which we’d fideistically place our gods, but neither can the neo-Nietzscheans guard the metaphysical perimeters, where reality’s initial, boundary & limit conditions can’t a priori be declared brute rather than a donative fruit.

Is reality thus brute, fruit or mute?

For most persons & most of history, reality has been interpreted as – not at all mute, but – having spoken.

A robust existential actionability has been cashed out of that interpretation & normatively justified in terms of augmented unity, beauty, goodness & freedom.

Conceptions of divine interactivity have ranged between the remotest of deisms & most intimate of spousal mysticisms.

Such conceptions aren’t urged or constrained by our metaphysics, though, only by our theodicy-free theophanies!

You May Keep Your Trinitarian Kataphatic Crayons if You Color Inside Defensible Dogmatic Lines

There are many common phenomenological themes that present as we have encountered manifold & multiform aporiae throughout the great chain of being, beginning with whether or not being, itself, is a useful construct when predicated of existence writ large, mereologically, or even of a given existent.

An emergentist account has proved helpful as a heuristic device, which will strategically employ a suite of conceptual placeholders at each of reality’s causal joints in order to provide a lingua franca to alternate interpretations, typically, of emergent novel effects as will have appeared to have been proper to no previously known causes.

These aporiae have arisen and been addressed especially in the facts of quantum mechanics & the approaches of quantum interpretations, the facts of cosmology and interpretations of age-old & modern cosmogonies, the facts of biological realities and biogenetic interpretations, the facts of neurobiology and the interpretations of philosophies of mind, the facts of human sapience and the interpretations of brain & language evolution, the fact of human agency & freedom and the interpretations of free will.

The phenomenological lingua franca will typically be constructed using a familiar set of epistemic hygienes. I’m not suggesting this has always been consciously recognized as a rather universal epistemic suite, only that, having dabbled in these philosophies of science and some metaphysics over the years, although the terminology was different from one domain to another, I repeatedly encountered recurring themes.

A vague phenomenology will often:

1) prescind from necessities to probabilities

2) not a priori interpret probabilities as ontological vs epistemic

3) bracket ontologies, i.e. no root metaphor & no prioritization of entities or of relations or of static vs dynamical accounts

4) implicitly employ Aristotelian causes associated with acts & potencies

5) implicitly employ modal categories of both temporality & adequacy

6) navigate the shoals of essentialism & nominalism with a moderate realism

7) attend to predications (e.g. analogical, univocal, equivocal, apophatic, kataphatic)

8) attend to a conceptual typology (e.g. essentialist, fuzzy, vague, pluralist, cluster)

9) attend to philosophical distinctions (e.g. real, logical, conceptual, virtual, formal, metaphysical, modal)

10) attend to evidentiary standards for normative impetus (e.g. scholastic notations)

11) follow the rubrics of triadic inference (e.g. abductive, retroductive, inductive, deductive)

12) attend to triadic ellipsis (e.g. syntax, semantic, pragmatic, contextual)

13) confront paradox w/o a priori approach to its dialectical resolution, pragmatic evasion, paradigmatic dissolution, exploitation of creative tensions

14) return to fast & frugal heuristics of common sense (e.g. reductio ad absurdum, existential actionability)

15) consistent with common sense and vital traditions, recognize the value-realizations of successful reference even when successful description evades us

16) attend to the normative significance & existential actionability even of inchoate meta-heuristic realities, which impart reasonable ontological implications & suggestions, even when meta-physical ontological specifications & definitions otherwise elude us (e.g. Whether in a modest moral deontology, grounded in a tentative ontology, which invites an ethical pluralism derived from a suitable moral probabilism, or in a dogmatic theology, grounded in diligent historical, exegetical & mystical hermeneutics, which invite diverse theologoumena & a theological (sometimes even a polydoxic) pluralism, this is to recognize that there are still lines within which we must color, time-honored, tradition-tested, boundaries within which we best remain)

I just inventoried the above meta-heuristic rubrics without elaborating on examples or engaging them in a robustly explanatory way because I don’t have the time and space or interest, presently. At the same time, I’ve indeed treated this emergentist approach exhaustively over the years, elsewhere. For one thing, most who’d have any interest will rather quickly recognize its general themes, anyway.

My particular purpose, above, is to set forth this rubric to better reveal how it applies to trinitarian theology, where I see similar dynamics, tensions, aporiae, antinomies, paradoxes presenting and where rigorous parsings and prayerful reflections continue even after millennia.

To the extent that intratrinitarian realities will, definitionally, represent humankind’s ultimate aporetic horizon, this is to suggest that the problematics that inhere in the rubrics above are of a different order of magnitude (of difficulty!), because the above-listed heuristic devices address spatio-temporal, materio-energetic realities, where Aristotelian causes, acts & potencies, and semiotic modal ontologies & ellipses, simply do not adequately address, for example, the ousia or hypostasis of a putative actus purus, where a modal ontology would represent a category error, where kataphatic predications are so vague that they more so implicitly entail the inference-blocking strategy of a rationally apophatic via negativa (thankfully thereby at least providing dogmatic lines within which to color).

This is not to suggest, however, that there are no legitimate fields of discourse regarding the immanent trinity, only to recognize that philosophy is neither their academic starting place nor their proper existential landing. Others will have to determine which beliefs represent authentic dogma and/or legitimate opinions, which impart normative impetus to our moral excursions and/or liturgical celebrations.

It is to say that there are authentic dogmatic lines within which theologians should color in their otherwise diverse theological disciplines …

including normative (ethos & mythos) foundations (historical, exegetical & philosophical);

evaluative (pathos) liturgical & devotional doctrines and dispositions;

interpretive (topos) ecclesiological & systematic expositions; and

descriptive (logos & cosmos) propositions, which include soteriological & sophiological, ascetical & mystical, moral & pastoral, anthropological & eschatological communications.

In my view, they all best follow Lonergan’s trajectory of methods & his imperatives of conversion.

This is also to recognize that the above-bracketing exercise will not issue forth deliverances regarding whether a primarily relational or substantive intratrinitarian account is more coherent, but that, even left bereft of robust definitions of entities & specifications of relations, the church has for millennia, nevertheless, enjoyed the fruits of the reasonably presupposed successful dogmatic references, as implicated in its celebrations of same liturgically & mystically! And these have sufficed at producing spiritual fruits, reaping myriad consolations and fostering authentic conversions!

Ortho-communal belongings have cult-ivated ortho-pathic desirings inculcating ortho-praxic behavings, which have, with varying empirically measureable degrees of success from one community of believers to the next, authenticated ortho-doxic beliefs, all through a process of becoming, i.e. who we are meant to be, thereby realizing the freedom called forth by our temporal & eternal ends (telos).

Much of this is appropriated and validated much more so via our participatory imaginations than by our cognitive map-making excurses. Most of us taste & see the goodness of our leaps of faith without employing classical or analytical theology.

Still, those systematic theologians who continue to wrestle with intractable metaphysical & theological aporiae, just like the many philosophers of science, can hygienically cleanse our epistemic hubris and therapeutically purge our insidious conceptual idolatries, many of which can needlessly & scandalously divide our community of faithful.

Done with a suitable metaphysical circumspection and not overinvested with a supposedly universal normative impetus, theological opinion-giving, even regarding the Divine Essence, needn’t a priori retreat behind a radically apophatic, rational via negativa, which can, ironically, reveal a rationalistic bent, albeit inverse. It just had better plant its seeds in the existential soil of a prayerful, mystical garden of an experiential apophaticism and genuine religious conversion. And the intellectual and affective excesses of rationalism, encratism, quietism, pietism, fideism, relativism, voluntarism, intellectualism and so on can thereby best be avoided.

What might we not unreasonably infer from our own telic realizations, both temporal & eternal, secular & religious, and the manner through which they progressively gift our freedom?

Realizations that advance our mere agency to a clear liberty?

That reduce our unrealized potencies through increasingly authentic acts that determine them via habitual virtue?

And through which we receive the beatitudinal & beatific consolations that ensue from that sustained authenticity, which has been born of our ever-enlarging circle of loving personal relationships?

If that donative gifting of freedom thus ensues via our telic realizations of our truest nature, whereby loving interpersonal acts determine otherwise indeterminate potencies of our human relational realities, then, even without being able to definitively describe a divine entity or completely specify a divine relation, might we not reasonably infer that an Actus Purus (free beyond all freedoms imaginable, love beyond all loving conceivable) could be somewhat successfully referred to as having gifted such effects as would remain proper to no other known cause?

And also, at least, be somewhat successfully referred to as somehow & in some way (neither wholly describable nor robustly specifiable) a circle of loving personal relationships?

See also:

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/a-semiotic-phenomenology-toward-a-more-ecumenical-trinitology-and-trinitophany/

Freedom – from Aquinas to Modern Emergentist Semiotics

If freedom’s a realization of essence, the gratuity of creation already gifts us degrees of freedom via co/operative connaturality ordered to temporal ends, e.g. Lonergan’s secular conversions thereby foster an obediential potency to the gratuity of grace, necessary to realize our eternal ends, theological virtues, our fullest essence.

Co/operative graces don’t abrogate but bring freedom to fruition.

Acting per our temporal ends grows freedom, per our eternal ends IS freedom.

By analogy, infinite actuality to be His essence = God’s freedom.

Tracking Aquinas: Formal causes or habits grow & correspond to increasing freedom, as the ratios of acts to potency, formal to final causes, determinations to indeterminates, increase (in the direction of Actus Purus).

Interestingly, in modern emergentist semiotic accounts, final causes (teloi) have been parsed per degrees of indeterminate potency that have been progressively actuated & determined. Entities & states emerge as teleopotent or end-unbounded; teleomatic or end-stated; teleonomic or end-directed & end-purposed; teleologic or end-intended, where freedom is realized.

Whatever one’s position re nomicities (act/formal & potency/final), a more robust account of reality’s emergent, nested nomicities, as Lonergan might say, would provide “no end of room for God to work on the free choice without violating it.”

A generic emergentist semiotic heuristic can indeed provide a more robust account of creation’s nomic realities vis a vis divine interventions.

HUMAN FREEDOM – BYOM (bring your own metaphysic)

An account of the emergence of freedom in particular semiotic terms
The emergence of symbols will ultimately differentiate the teleonomic from the teleologic, the robustly algorithmic instinctual from the weakly algorithmic cognitive precursors of behavior.
Because of its arbitrary nature, symbolic processing can make more mistakes in response to stimuli. We can think of similies, analogies & metaphors as nonliteral or as mistakes in comparison to the merely iconic & indexic algorithms of instinctual abductive processes.
This ability to make more mistakes in response to stimuli, if they’re not of tremendous survival significance, exponentially leverages the mistake-maker’s ability to learn, bootstrapping a potential maladaptive “devolution” of a hard-wired abductive instinct to a soft-wired abductive inference.
To a great extent, the emergence of this less algorithmic abduction would have not been greatly maladaptive, especially since individual outliers (out-liars) would have been protected both socially and instinctually.
Symbolic language evolution may have been bootstrapped, therefore, from some broken hardwiring in the instinctual abductive processors of human phylogenetic ancestors.
The ability to then symbolically imagine one’s own self in a more robustly inferential abductive process accounts for even more bootstrapping, especially of a socially adaptive nature. Not only could the symbol-maker advance in the manner of “absenting” various teleomatic and teleonomic constraints through enhanced learning and memory, but s/he could better out-maneuver any unwelcome, external teleologic constraints, socially, further leveraging one’s own internal teleologic processing in service of oneself and one’s tribe.
The increase in the plasticity of abductive behavioral responses with the dawn of abductive inference thus represents a novel qualitative emergence, therefore, not a mere jump in algorithmic, computational processing capabilities.
Through enhanced learning and memory, individually and socially, the symbol-maker’s growing repertoire of behavioral responses and the increasing plasticity of those responses need not be conceived in terms of some nomological escape velocity, whereby nomic necessities would no longer objectively hold, but certainly would represent the dawn of a more robustly probabilistic cognitive processing in addition to but with no marginalization of instinctual abductive capacities, the latter which still play an indispensable role in our species’ quotidian existence, even subconsciously. This is to suggest that we feel more free in our daily choices than we actually are.

Any of our mis/perceptions that environmental regularities (both ad extra in our interaction with our physical and social environs and ad intra in our symbolic self-representation) are, themselves, necessarily less versus more in/determined, may or may not really derive from their objective nomic attributes, but, rather, may instead be rooted in our own experience of variances in our own abilities and in/determinations of those regularities, whatever the reason for their seeming in/determinabilities. Those variances would result from our own learning advances.
As a result of those learning advances, we would, in turn, pragmatically value or disvalue various entities, states or events, axiologically privileging the teleologic over the teleonomic over the teleomatic. Our experience of a progressive freedom from their respective constraints needn’t be conceived as a change in their intrinsic nomic necessity. It’s possible that it could instead be understood as an advance in our own methodological determinations vis a vis their real determinability.
We cannot a priori know when it is that we are being thwarted, methodologically, or have encountered some in principle permanent occulting, metaphysically, by an indeterminable reality, however much it might, itself, be in/determined, whether it’s a necessity or contingency, finite or infinite. We do know that there’s little justification for raising a white epistemic flag of surrender or in a priori presupposing that any entity, event or state is brute or unconditioned.
An account of the emergence of freedom in general semiotic terms

If there exists a variety of telic causes, for example, teleopotent or end-unbounded (e.g. certain equilibria), teleomatic or end-stated, teleonomic or end-purposed, and teleologic or end-intended, which can be variously nested and networked to effect any particular entity, state or event, these could well represent objective, physical, nomic necessities.

We might perceive such nomicities and respond as if they represent real stochasticities, variously over- and/or underdetermined – not because they are not otherwise wholly determined, but – because we experience them differentially along an axiological continuum of end-relata, which we derive pragmatically from their perceived adaptive significance.

This is all to suggest that we nonarbitrarily value the teleologic over the teleonomic over the teleomatic due to their significance for our survival and flourishing.

Insofar as any given entity, state or event represents a unique causal network wherein these variously nested end-relata or teloi contribute in different ways and to varying extents, we will tend to value them as more or less beautiful, if they are more or less abductively facile or elegant, and as more or less good, if they are existentially advantageous or useful. Small wonder that the phrase — “That’s random!” — is intended in the pejorative sense. The unintelligible event threatens us. It has the potential to invoke an exhilarating awe, if it doesn’t wound or kill us, if we can cultivate a tolerance for ambiguity and learn to better abide paradox.

Our abductions will be valued as more or less true to the extent they afford value-realizations of beauty and goodness. It is in our experience of epistemic distancing from such axiological value-realizations, in other words, our experience of our radical finitude both epistemically and existentially, that we will locate emergent degrees of freedom, precisely in terms of our progressive ability to foster value-realizations and avoid value-frustrations.

What we call freedom is thus derived from our developmental experience of learning and memory, whereby we experience a progressive diminution of teleomatic, teleonomic and external teleologic constraints with a concomitant augmentation of internal teleologic effectiveness. What matters, then, for our experience of relative freedom, are genuinely perceived differentials in the quantity and quality of nested and networked end-relata or teloi and not whether or not they are, in and of themselves, real nomic necessities.

Teloi can be thoroughgoing nomic necessities, while also being limited in their range and scope vis a vis any given entity, state or event. It is in our encounter with such differentials as the range and scope of various teloi that we will value or disvalue them per their adaptive significance, all without concern for whether such differentials represent epistemic in/determinables or ontic in/determinedness.

So, this is all to further suggest that, from within an emergentist heuristic, the experience of human freedom would be compatible with ontologies that interpret stochasticity and nomicity in epistemic terms only, in meta/physical terms also or in various admixtures, where in/determinacies represent epistemic in/determinables and/or ontic in/determinedness.

If we stipulate to a principle of sufficient reason, its logical aspect could reasonably expect causal explanations for entities, states and events in the modal category of actualities. In the modal category of nomicities, we’d, instead, aspire to formulate axioms that are both consistent & complete in a closed, formal, symbol system. Any such rendering of ultimate initial, boundary and limit conditions may well, even inescapably, have some type and degree of bruteness regarding putative alternative axioms, but, ontologically, the causal relata, even if not terminating in some causa sui, needn’t be conceived as turtles all the way down, but, instead, in terms of nested, networks all the way around.

If bruteness is in some manner inescapable, perhaps a more restrictive definition might suffice, whereby we qualify it in pragmatic terms as interesting or uninteresting?

If a putative final equation is so elegant and so incredibly useful vis a vis our unimaginably complex emergent reality, so beautiful and so good, whether its axioms are true or not may or may not be terribly interesting.

Take, for example, the hundreds of pages of the Principia Mathematica wherein the axioms required for the arithmetic system that proves 2+2=4 are therein formulated and proved.
Have you read those pages?

Do those proofs interest you?

Would you care if they were otherwise brute, as long as you could taste their goodness and see their beauty?

Might a PSR version admit uninteresting bruteness, logically, for an otherwise elegant modal ontological argument that’s been validly formulated?

If so, such a PSR might well be true, whether grounded in a causa sui, sufficiently predicated, or otherwise in a valid alternative eternalist, infinitist account.

We just cannot a priori say.

PSR – taking existence as a predicate?

A rather old and perduring philosophical problem endures. Taking existence as a predicate for some causa sui is certainly valid but it requires further demonstration to show that the event, state or entity obtains.
An unrestricted PSR, employing existence as a predicate, does seem to entail monism and necessitarianism, culminating in an implicit/explicit ontological argument for some god-conception, all taken together, a pantheism. Other PSR versions seem more broadly consistent with any number of ontologies.
The most interesting modal ontological arguments to me are those of Gödel & Hartshorne, more recently by Chris McHugh, who employs Richard Gale’s strategy to guarantee conceptual compatibility vis a vis the logic of the argument’s properties. That approach describes the properties in negative terms, i.e. non-this and non-that. One could limn one’s preferred class of conjoined properties in this way to ensure that one’s argument remains immune to parodies which might otherwise reduce one’s god conception to yield absurdities. Sounds like good old fashioned apophatic theology!
The PSR logic seems to me to have similar hurdles in taking existence as a predicate. It all boils down to competing plausibilities, convincing ourselves and others of the truth of our premises and integrity our terms.
PSR – it’s essential structure
If one stipulates (in my view, inescapably) that the PSR remains neither analytically nor synthetically a apriori, neither rationally provable nor disprovable, neither empirically verifiable nor falsifiable, it will, thereby, conveniently escape the Agrippan trilemma. Agrippa can only take down those PSR versions that employ (whether explicitly, implicitly or practically) infallibilist, foundational pretensions, the likes of which realism needn’t entail, only dogmatism.

PSR with various ontological priors

Less than any serious objections to the PSR per se, whatever its scope (and we need non-question begging, nonarbitrary, principles for its expansion or restriction), my biggest concern is what its different proponents put on our ontological plates and expect us to swallow after setting our epistemic table with commitments to various PSR versions.
Setting aside our concerns, then, regarding the epistemic character of various PSR versions, for argument’s sake, any PSR will seem to me to be less problematic than the implicit presuppositions one might bring along to its table. I’m thinking mostly about those presuppositions regarding different SETS of givens (primitives & laws), axioms/self-evidentiality & rules of inference.
Most formulations of monist, dualist and pluralist ontologies seem to invoke naive set theory, which has been proven inconsistent. Many seem to incoherently demand the same types of explicability for arguments regarding both finite and infinite sets, most often misapplying the axioms of finite sets to infinite sets, whether those set members include necessities and/or contingencies.

Naive set theory brings into play constraints like Godel’s Incompleteness, Tarski’s Undefinability and Russell’s Paradox, each or all of which wouldn’t necessarily commit us to wholesale incoherency. They will often require of us, however, some degree of epistemic capitulation to paraconsistent logics, for example. This seems somewhat analogous to our often being forced to resort to weaker forms of inference, such as when arguing for the PSR, itself.
So, avoiding the fallacy of abuse, I am not challenging the eminent rationality of various PSR versions properly applied. I’m just yet to see it applied in such a way that it could move me beyond a vague phenomenology & ontological undecidability and into any particular metaphysical system, including those of Peirce or Spinosa, Swinburne or Tegmark.
PSR – causal explanations and causal relata

I suppose I bifurcate the PSR into subjective causal explanations and objective causal relations. I would not bother arguing for the latter, which, for me, begs no justification. Our priors might differ in that I do make an intuitive leap, suspecting that entities and states (real actualities) are sufficiently (not wholly) determined by nomicities (teloi).

We are confronted with a demarcation challenge as applied to our indispensable & provisional methodological stipulations. Which of those might we justifiably morph into para-1st-principles? PSR? Methodological naturalism? There’s an obvious consistency in doing either both or neither. Some, however, do one or the other. What’s their nonarbitrary, principled demarcation?

My concern with Della Rocca’s argument is that he couldn’t succeed, in principle, in formally proving that stance, although that certainly wasn’t his ambition. His cumulative case ox is gored by the same methodological horn that takes down Swinburne’s inductive approaches. Neither meets evidentiary standards that rise beyond a reasonable suspicion to the level of a probable cause, thus lacking the normative impetus both Della Rocca and Swinburne would impart with their bayesian-like probabilities.

The non-question begging, nonarbitrary principle I would apply as urged by Della Rocca would draw a distinction between explicatory arguments that refer to putative entities & states and those that refer to known entities & states vis a vis existing laws, primitives, axioms or rules. This does not correspond to the Popperian demarcation, distinguishing the probable (triadic inferential cycling) from the plausible (dyadic inferential cycling of deductive clarifying & abductive hypothesizing sans inductive testing). It takes us beyond into the domains of the very highly speculative theoretic sciences and metaphysics, where equiplausible interpretations compete and where explicability arguments about the very existence of an entity are certainly legitimate but would be less plausible and therefore impart less normative impetus than those about other causal relations regarding known entities or states.

Neither the PSR nor methodological naturalism warrant elevation to an a priori, nonpropositional, self-evidential, axiomatic given and they don’t enjoy epistemic parity with explicability arguments interpreting known entities or states. Initial, boundary and limit conditions beg too many existential or modal questions of states yet known.

PSR – demarcation considerations

Della Rocca & Feser properly make plausibilist appeals. That’s appropriately modest in my view.

I like his demarcation challenge, requesting non-question begging, nonarbitrary principles for rejecting explicability arguments [EA] regarding existence but not for some other types of EA. What justifies any a priori rejection of the PSR in the case of existence?

I’m going to try to formulate some non-question begging, nonarbitrary principles for when indispensable methodological stipulations should graduate in our systems to the status of seeming metaphysical necessities (e.g. with ontological commitments) and when they should be considered as merely provisional strategies.

For example, why elevate the PSR from an epistemic heuristic to the equivalent of a self-evident first principle while not similarly moving from an indispensable methodological naturalism to a full blown metaphysical naturalism?

For example, what might be the epistemic & pragmatic costs of denying one or the other — the PSR? Methodological naturalism? Perish the thought!

And what might be the respective cost-benefits attached to affirming their metaphysical necessity?

Well, with the PSR on steroids version, for many, an untenable downside might be necessitarianism? Others might address the consequences that might ensue if metaphysical naturalism got enshrined as the only reasonable ontological commitment.
PSR – epistemic justification?
As per my theory of knowledge, any PSR proceeds from an induction, gets selected over against competing claims abductively, then formulated tautologically. It’s an eminently rational move, very ontologically suggestive but in no way decisive. As per my theory of truth, I am no more interested in justifying it than I am in justifying first principles, common sense notions of causation or of other minds.
Spinoza & Aquinas

The conceptual overlaps between Spinoza & Aquinas are real and interesting. Where they differ makes for a great foil through which we might deeper our understanding of each other as well as our self-understanding. Alas, I’m too preoccupied with meta-metaphysics to make a leap!
PSR – normative justification

It’s a riddle to me as I normatively justify the PSR inductively & abductively in intuition, common sense & pragmatically. However, it’s not a wholly self-subverting notion because it’s a matter of degree. Peirce would counsel us that on matters of vital concern, we trust our intuitions, instincts, common sense, tradition. In matters of highly theoretic, speculative concerns, we best hypothesize boldly. Popper says much the same thing regarding our formulation of falsifiable hypotheses.
PSR – modal distinctions & their distinct forms of explanation
Intuitively, almost appealing to a notion like self-evidently, I’m sympathetic. It may be that if we properly distinguish between modal actuality and modal necessity so as to properly specify the criteria by which each would be sufficiently explained, you needn’t sacrifice the PSR to more and more restrictions. Modal actualities are sufficiently explained by nomic necessities. Modal necessities might be sufficiently explained by axiomatic consistency & completeness, formally & symbolically & systematically & closed.
PSR – Spinosa as Scotist?
My first blush is that the PSR is not necessarily inconsistent with any plurality whatsoever, especially if Spinoza employs something akin to both the univocity of being and formal distinction of Scotus. The plurality needn’t be one of substance as a modal actuality. The attributes would refer to nomological necessities or formal distinctions.
PSR – Spinoza & Peirce

I see even more resonances between your appropriation of Spinoza and my own of Scotus & Peirce.

The laws are real but not actual things. They refer to final causes, which I refer to as teloi to emphasize the analogical character of different types of laws. This modal category evokes for me the formal distinction of Scotus. Some Thomists might refer to it as a metaphysically real distinction.

For Peirce’s modal category of laws or generalities or regularities, noncontradiction holds but excluded middle folds.

For actualities, the world of things, where real physical distinctions apply, both noncontradiction and excluded middle hold.

To get to this point of agreement, we have not relied on any particular metaphysic but only vague phenomenological categories like modal distinctions and their logic.

I employ these categories to see how different competing metaphysics can each be logically consistent, internally coherent, externally congruent, interdisciplinarily consilient, hypothetically consonant and abductively facile. I presuppose that my interlocutors’ metaphysics meet these criteria of epistemic virtue, whether materialist monists or idealist monists, whether employing substance or process approaches, whether predicating existence of being or not, whether imagining a chain of infinite teloi sufficiently explained by an understanding of each and all links or otherwise grounded in some primal Telos. In other words, I presuppose that each proceeds from a live option (not saying some don’t thereafter disappoint me).

On this point of what nomological realism and nomic necessity might mean, I see no inconsistency between Spinoza and Peirce. There need be no real limit to causal explanations and causal relations vis a vis actualities or things.

What might an unrestricted PSR demand regarding not things but laws? Perhaps the consistency & completeness of their axioms? If so, that’s not theoretically problematic even though our access to them remains inescapably problematic.

It seems to me that the trilemma applies to our theories of knowledge, to our approach toward things or actualities and laws or necessities. It means our approach remains fallibilist and probabilist. If you are suggesting it’s a category error to aim it at a theory of truth, I think I agree.
Types of Necessity

This discussion evokes different types of necessity for me, such as epistemic, logical, metaphysical and nomological.

It brings to mind a Peircean interpretation — that Spinoza’s thought was necessitarian in the sense of his being a nomological realist and his determinism was a principle of individuation for things.

Neither this necessitarianism nor determinism applied generally to the whole of his metaphysic, however.

Consistent with a nomological realism …

wherein nomic necessities govern causal relations & foster the causal explanations per your PSR version …

Spinoza’s metaphysic would not be inconsistent with Peirce’s modal ontology & logic nor with his formal mind-body distinction nor even with a Peircean tychism, where laws (final causes) & regularities, themselves, evolve.

Properly constructed, a PSR would, at worst, garner a Scottish verdict: not proved. One would be disproving too much to claim more for their rebuttal.

More to the point of this post, though, is that it would gain intuitive common sensical appeal if consistent with this Peircean take on Spinozan necessitarianism, being much less counterintuitive to many.
PSR as methodological
Because we must provisionally and methodologically stipulate to the PSR doesn’t make it ontologically necessary, it only makes us epistemically unfortunate if it’s not.

Metaphysical presuppositions like the first principles, PSR, PSC and predicating being of existence can serve us as methodological stipulations without requiring us to necessarily accept them as ontological commitments.

The regularities we observe could be novel emergent realities, both temporally & spatially very local, in an eternally dynamical reality. In a process conception of reality, a notion like motion, change or novelty might best serve as our metaphysical root metaphor rather than more static ones like being or substance.

Whether our dynamical account of these causes would fall prey to the fallacy of composition or not, we cannot a priori say and may not necessarily be able to a posteriori access.

If indeed the PSR does not hold beyond our local emergent reality, it does not mean that reality is wholly unintelligible. Not being comprehensible as a whole would not keep reality from being intelligible, in part.
Aristotelian Causations

Aristotelian notions of causation have been helpful in modern semiotic science. But in the same way that different emergent layers of reality employ analogical notions of entropy (e.g. Boltzman, Shannon & Darwin entropies), so, too, instances of final causation might or might not represent analogues of various teloi (e.g. teleomatic, teleonomic & teleodynamic).

In our original discussion of first principles, the fallacy of composition may or may not come into play vis a vis PSC & PSR. Under one scenario, we can conceive of dynamical, emergent, teloi, only. Under the other, we must add primal Telos, about which our conceptions must remain very vague, as our metaphorical references get progressively weaker.

I gather that you are merely defending the reasonableness of certain metaphysical presuppositions but not that you are denying competing equiplausible interpretations. I wouldn’t accept the notion that these competitions could be contested in any robustly probabilistic way, presently. Too many epistemic hurdles need to be jumped, like reconciling gravity & quantum mechanics.
PSR – a/theological implications?

Of interest may be what one presupposes, metaphysically, as the object of sufficient reason?

That object often lies hidden – not only in the premises, but – in the definitions of a given argument’s terms.

For example, regarding any given whole, one may a priori consider it to be that type that can be sufficiently explained by its parts. Another may presuppose that the whole, itself, begs an explanation beyond those available by understanding its parts.

The PSR, it would seem, could have as its object either a whole that is sufficiently explicable by its many dynamical causal components or one that requires a transcending and preceding cause. That latter whole and its preceding cause may be conceived together as yet another whole, itself, either sufficiently comprehensible or not. A putative primal cause may or may not ever, necessarily, need to come into play? It might arise or not in a static, substance metaphysic, arise or not in a dynamical process approach. Often it seems such ontological conclusions are tautologically embedded in the definitions and root metaphors of competing metaphysics, before they make their way into premises and arguments.

I guess one implication is that we needn’t conflate any PSR & PSC, as —

even if reality, in the end, was not explanatorily brute, that doesn’t necessarily specify the causal natures of the objects under consideration, i.e. what might be required to comprehend this or that entity.

Those objects when taken as a whole, it seems, could be wholly intelligible whether understood in terms of 1) the causes of their dynamical parts 2) some preceding & transcending cause, which then begs the same analysis or 3) some primal cause?

None of those scenarios would have strict a/theological implications, i.e. necessarily ruling God in or out. They’d have implications for various a/theological conceptions of reality in terms of any essential natures or specific attributes, e.g. changing the root metaphors of our metaphysical interpretations.

To make this a tad less abstract, a bit more concrete, some panentheists employ more or less classical god-conceptions like creatio ex nihilo, while others imagine a creatio ex profundis or creation out of a coeternal formless void, abyss, chaos or “the deep,” as referenced in Genesis as “tehom.” A tehomic panentheism would be consistent with both a self-subsisting cosmos and a self-subsisting deity, both possibly explicable without reference to transcending causes, intelligible simply by understanding their respective components.

The PSR thus remains an indispensable methodological stipulation. No justification for epistemic surrender? What type of causes beg explanation or not,

we can’t always know? Are we dealing with a multiplicity of teloi, both in kind and degree, or some primal Telos, vis a vis reality taken as a whole?
PSR & explanatory gaps
I very much enjoy reading the popularized accounts of current scientific research, especially as they focus on explanatory gaps regarding origins. The empirical facts regarding quantum mechanics, cosmogenesis, the origins of life, origins of consciousness & origins of symbolic language fascinate me.

I view it all through an emergence heuristic (although eschewing distinctions like supervenience). At each juncture, of course, are manifold interpretations of those facts, which I classify, respectively, as veldopoietic (field origins), cosmopoietic, biopoietic, sentiopoietic & sapiopoietic. Hence different quantum interpretations, cosmogonies, life origins interpretations, philosophies of mind, etc, all with various emergent, novel entropies and teloi.

The new philosophical interpretations can often be as frustrating to me as the new scientific facts are fascinating! Some interpretations prove too much and come across more ideologically driven than philosophically. I remain a thoroughgoing metaphysical agnostic about such explanatory gaps. A physicalist conception of the soul is as tenable to me as any other.

I suppose I’m saying enjoy your science as not much has happened metaphysically since … I’ll be politic and let that hang.
PSR – more on Aquinas & Spinosa
Your distinctions regarding Aquinas & Spinoza’s versions of simplicity remind me of various versions of distinctions conceived by Scotists & Thomists. What Scotus called a formal distinction might be what some Thomists now call a real metaphysical distinction. Then of course they add real, virtual, conceptual and modal distinctions (of both adequacy & temporality). Some Thomists now distinguish between an esse naturale and an esse intentionale, more highly nuancing simplicity, contingency, separability, im/mutability, im/passibility and such.
Nontheist Interpretations

I celebrate nontheistic metaphysical interpretations of reality, theistically, conceiving them as studies of God’s impersonal aspects.
Nature of Regularities

That’s a major rub — the nature of regularities. In our empirical sciences, we proceed with probabilities, never quite encountering necessities even though reality hints at them, all over the place! Are any necessities physically instantiated?

Is chaos merely epistemic or robustly ontological? Are in/determinacies merely in/determinable or clearly in/determined or a combination of both? We don’t generally need to know these answers to make probabilistic, falsifiable, predictions and fallibly advance knowledge.

CS Peirce formulated what he called the Neglected Argument for the Reality of God, which boils down to an abduction of the Ens Necessarium. (Peirce was largely influenced by Scotus).

Does necessity successfully refer to physical reality? Metaphysically? Are there eternal laws or only ever-emergent regularities, partly dis/continuous, variously in/determined in degrees? It’s quite a Quest we’re on!

Suber’s Problem of Beginning
I enjoy reading this paper every few years: https://dash.harvard.edu/ha…

Maybe it’s a baker’s dozen-lema. Although, Peter Suber’s list of problematic ways of beginning did seem to reduce to Thinker’s trilemma is how it first struck me long ago.

Hawking came to accept Godel-like implications for any theory of everything. In the choice between consistency & completeness, he said the good money’s on incompleteness & consistency.

Is the cosmos mute, brute or fruit?

Mute regarding its necessity or contingency? A brute reality? The contingent fruit of another reality?
I have progressive, Evangelical Protestant friends, who, when they mention grabbing a beer, often seem to be doing so as a form of social media vice-signaling, almost as if to be brandishing some renegade, heterodoxic bona fides. When my Catholic co-religionists bring up brewskis, they are assuredly merely sharing a simple faith proposition or credo: I believe I’ll have another beer.
Explanations & Justifications
I take explanations to be descriptive and/or interpretive, while justifications are normative, including justification of beliefs (interpretive). So, there’s an integral relationship and the same problems apply to inductive and causal justifications as well as deductive.

The process of justification can lead to the premises of any trilemma or baker’s dozen-lemma, however one conceives these problems of skepticism.

The good news is that we don’t have to reject any of those premises, whether 3 or 13, in order to dismiss their conclusion — that knowledge isn’t possible. All we have to do is to draw the distinction between fallible & infallible knowledge. Human knowledge is fallible & probabilistic. That argument only applies to infallible knowledge, which makes the trilemma perhaps problematic for the Pope but certainly not for me.

I agree that radically skeptical arguments fall on the horns of their own trilemma. The skeptic, then, must retreat to a moderate skepticism, just as the realist retreats to moderate and critical realisms, where we prescind from metaphysical modes of necessity to those of probability, employing underdetermined realities & fuzzy logics. The skeptic might then argue that, given these premises, one can reasonably expect that they’ll to some degree find infallible knowledge to be elusive. [tongue in cheek]
Theories of Truth & Knowledge
Spinoza, per this account, seems to employ a correspondence theory of truth with a fallibilist theory of knowledge.
He seems to draw a distinction between causal explanations and causal relations, by which he locates our mind-body conceptions in the former not the latter. Our minds and bodies would be connected explanatorily but would not interact because, substantially, they are the same.
This exemplifies Scotus’ formal distinction.
Peirce was a realist about laws and causal relations, including continuity, efficient & final causation.
It would seem that these interpretive resonances between Spinoza, Scotus & Peirce, when taken together, would be consistent with your monist intuitions? Peirce had a saying that we must be about “the minding of matter and the mattering of the mind.”
Peirce, however, was also a realist about chance, so would part ways Spinoza’s complete determinism. Maybe it could be said that if epistemology models ontology and our epistemology is inescapably probabilistic, then, so might reality be probabilistic, so might reality be largely but not entirely determined rather than governed by thoroughgoing necessities. For Peirce, the Ens Necessarium would refer to the reality of God.
Of course, one cannot a priori know whether probabilities are merely epistemic or also ontological. So, I’m just describing, not prescribing, another logically live option to you.

Perhaps Spinoza wouldn’t consider an epistemic infinitism fatal, especially for an infinite accidentally ordered series, where reality represents a set of contingents. If that set, itself, is explicable in terms of its members, our explanations are both complete and consistent. Apparently, Spinoza a priori presupposes, however, that this set of contingents is, itself, contingent. Maybe it is but maybe it isn’t.
In the case that this set of contingents might indeed beg its own explanation, a circular referentiality needn’t be logically flawed, only epistemically uninformative. The accidental series would represent formal not substantial distinctions in Spinoza’s monism, causal explanations not relations, all substantial relations presupposed in a closed, deterministic system as wholly intelligible necessities.
The practical upshot may be that the PSR leads to various theories of everything that are inescapably tautological, whether monistic, dualistic or pluralistic. The PSR might be axiomatically true and one of our tautological TOEs could be true. This is to suggest that neither the PSR nor a logically consistent, internally coherent and externally congruent metaphysic can be disproved by formal argument. All that can be demonstrated is that, if they’re indeed true, we can’t prove them formally. There’s a big difference between suggesting that we cannot, in principle, formulate truth, axiomatically, and otherwise saying we can’t prove that we’ve done so. The PSR could very well be much more than mere heuristic. It’s normative justification is pragmatic as we taste and see its goodness. As a methodological stipulation it’s ontologically suggestive, even though not decisive. This is no vulgar pragmatism but a fallibilist realism. The death of the PSR has been greatly exaggerated!
Fallacy of Composition?
At any rate, under whatever scenario, I certainly wouldn’t argue against the premise that “an infinite regress of contingent explanations would require a necessary explanation for the chain’s existence.” It certainly isn’t irrational and also seems worthy of holding beyond a mere stipulation for argument’s sake. I don’t imagine I could argue for it, either, at least not decisively. It seems rather undecidable, formally. Informally, an argument against it would seem refutable by a reductio. For one thing, the analogies required to traverse putative temporal, nontemporal and atemporal realities get so progressively vague and weak as to offer little intelligibility.
I appreciate the derivation of the trilemma from the PSR. That’s pretty tidy. The trilemma for sure succeeds against apodictic certainty and chastises those who are tempted to prove too much.

PSR’s essential structure redux

PSR is Product of Informal Reasoning

The PSR appears to be a combination of inductive and abductive inferences regarding both logical causal explanations and ontological causal relations.
Inductively, competing intuitions conjecture that reality can either be wholly or only partly explained, that some facts are brute or not.
Abductively, the PSR presupposes the conjecture that reality can be wholly explained, accepting the criticisms regarding brute facts.
This abduction thereby a priori and in principle forecloses on further inferential cycling, where deductive clarifying and abductive hypothesizing can be empirically interrupted by additional inductive testing.
PSR thus takes on the Form of a Metaphysical Tautology
Such a stark and rigid choice between competing explanatory interpretations moves the abduction across the epistemic line of demarcation from physics to metaphysics, where the PSR gains immunity to falsifiability.
Any perduring lack of intelligibility or causal explanation will then be necessarily considered only ever “provisionally” brute, however much empirical probing or attempts at falsification take place for however long.
The resilience of the PSR, therefore, does not derive from its long survival of the repetitive alternating conjectures and criticisms of critical rationalism, inductive experimentation or empirical falsification. Instead, it comes from its tautological premises, the truth of which remains rationally undecidable and empirically unfalsifiable. Those premises may very well be true or could, indeed, be false, but they remain ontologically uninformative.
A metaphysical tautology grounded in inductive and, even weaker, abductive inferences, does not make for a good formal argument. It has implicit probabilistic features due to its inductive nature and plausibilist appeal which led to its abduction, but nothing logically or ontologically necessary.

PSR is Normatively Justified as Methodological Stipulation
The PSR remains an indispensable methodological stipulation, but as a metaphysical presupposition, while it’s most certainly ontologically suggestive, it’s hardly decisive. As an inherently fallibilist approach, it doesn’t get epistemically gored on the horns of Agrippa’s trilemma like infallibilist and naive realist outlooks.

Human knowledge employs fast & frugal heuristics, a legacy of the evolutionary economy of epistemic satisficing, which corresponds, epistemologically, with something perhaps better described as the Principle of Adequate/Satisfactory Reason vis a vis causal explanations, whatever may “really” be the case, ontologically, with causal relations.

The PSR is normatively justified even while lacking other robustly epistemic warrants. While any formalized versions would be subject to Godel-like constraints, it’s best to remember that such formulations can be consistent and complete even though we cannot prove them formally. Our normative justifications are pragmatic, not a vulgar pragmatism, whereby we can quite possibly, indeed, taste and see the goodness of its methodological fruits.

PSR Remains Eminently Rational as a Theory of Truth but inescapably Fallibilist as a Theory of Knowledge

This is all to suggest that we mustn’t prove too much, that the PSR has its weaknesses but, at the same time, should not be underestimated regarding its strengths. It’s in no way irrational. Some of its refutations lend themselves to dismissal by reductio.
How might its logical structure compare to first principles, common sense notions of causation and some self-evident beliefs, which we accept nonpropositionally? Is it any more problematic than Humean problem of induction, as induction, for all practical purposes, works pretty darned well given our immersion in manifold and multiform regularities?
The PSR seems to lend itself only to an informal account, as it appears to me to be grounded in probabilistic inductions and plausibilist abductions, then epistemically woven into a metaphysical tautology, beyond the reach of empirical falsification.

Appendix 1 – Sound Logic

All this really is about is the distinction between logical validity and soundness, although the focus at hand more particularly concerns whether or not certain premises are justified in suggesting that certain of their terms are self-evident or overwhelmingly plausible. And the practical upshot is that if we are confronted with competing equiplausible claims, that does not exhaust our arsenal of rationality, which then turns to normative justifications for the existential actionability of those claims, the “living as if” approach consistent with consensus takes regarding epistemic and moral virtues.

Ironically, what may have first captured my own interest in competing metaphysics was my curiosity at how and why others found it so interesting, while I was in fact disinterested. Following Whitehead’s notion that Christianity was a religion “in search of a metaphysic,” I always believed, and still do, that Christian faith is justified with no need to resort to a particular metaphysic and that only a vague phenomenology suffices for its common sensical intuitions and an ordinary openness to abide with the occasional counterintuitions, especially if the character of those spouting such parables & paradoxes was impeccable and their love & compassion exemplary.

So, my project really has more to do with making an appeal not to tell untellable stories, not to prove too much, not to say way more about primal and ultimate realities than we could possibly know.

Our phenomenal experience of being sufficiently free, whatever degree of determinedness obtains, and of genuine value-realizations, requires no formal justification and is threatened by no sophistic formulations, at least no more than, for example, our belief in other minds. Solipsism is undecidable, neither provable nor refutable. But who cares? Who even finds it interesting? That’s how I feel about so much of metaphysics. If I enter the ontological fray, it is only to demonstrate its self-subversive tendencies.

Keeping these categories straight, though, does have enormous heuristic power in the most highly speculative theoretic sciences, which segue past or occupy the margins of that line of demarcation between science & metaphysics. I think here of competing accounts of cosmic origins, quantum interpretations, philosophy of mind and life’s origins, none which necessarily would have much import for putative primal necessities.

Appendix 2 – Religious Naturalisms

Varieties of Metaphysical Naturalisms — all consistent with both epistemological & ontological naturalisms

1) substantival monism – one being & one substance

a) materialist & physicalist

b) idealist – Neoplatonists

c) neutral (dualist attribute) – Spinoza

d) mereological (dualist substance) – consistent with PANentheism*

Various Hindus (Aurobindo) & Buddhists (Nagarjuna’s Middle Way) can be mapped everywhere and nowhere within the above monistic categories. Even Spinoza & Einstein have been reinterpreted by some as pan-entheists rather than pantheists.

2) attributive – one category of being & however many substances

a) materialist

b) idealist

* PANENtheism is ontologically dualist or pluralist, only methodologically naturalist