How the Principle of Sufficient Reason bolsters Theism (and not)

Just because naturalism is an indispensable methodological presupposition doesn’t mean it necessarily holds, metaphysically, it only means that we will be unfortunate if it does.

Just because some (weak) Principle of Sufficient Reason is an indispensable methodological presupposition doesn’t mean it necessarily holds, metaphysically, it only means that we will be unfortunate if it does not.

While I resonate more with a Scotistic/Peircean approach, properly understood, it reconciles well enough with an Aristotelian hylomorphism. I wonder, though, how many would agree that its strength does not present as much in terms of any explanatory adequacy but, instead, as an exploratory heuristic device?

And it properly guides one via analogia from determinate modes of being to the threshold of nondeterminate modes of identity, at which point, claims would not yet be distinctly a/theological? That particular step gets rather tacitly imported into one’s implicit or explicit PSR, which can embed one’s a/theological conclusions in its very definitions, which then rather sneakily implicate non/intentional realities. And this happens, perhaps, when one imports some un/reflectively preconceived philosophy of mind stance, as if they’ve some gnostic access to a Consciousness Explained?

Effectively, such a philosophy of mind takes hold as soon as one presupposes either a univocity of telos or an equivocity of teloi or even an analogia of teloi, which I take as an Analogia Axiomata in order to recognize reality’s plurality of aboutnesses.

Because it’s rather inescapable that a novel and robust teleo-logic presents in the emergence of Homo sapiens, there should be nothing terribly controversial, semantically, in referencing that phenomenon of symbolic consciousness by predicating it in terms of formal & final causes.


The problem comes, instead, when one metaphysically grounds this telos as if it were necessarily an ontological primitive, essentially placing consciousness along side space, time, mass & energy, for example. Whether this gets accomplished via some Cartesian dualism, idealist monism or even an Aristotelian hylomorphism that would further hypothesize the reality of disembodiable souls matters little. One has thereby invoked a univocity of telos in a reality where causes are pervasively intentional in origin.


Alternatively, one could metaphysically ground this telos as if it were necessarily epiphenomenally emergent, hypostasizing reality’s plurality of aboutnesses as if they ontologically derive, unidirectionally, from only upwardly causal material primitives. Whether this gets accomplished via some eliminative materialism, reductive physicalism, strongly supervenient emergentism or materialist monism matters little. One has thereby invoked an equivocity of teloi in a reality where causes are pervasively mechanistic in origin.


Finally, one could invoke an analogy of teloi, which semantically (grounds) employs a univocity to refer to reality’s plurality of aboutnesses using sufficiently vague causal references but which metaphysically grounds telos using analogies of proportion & attribution to properly distinguish determinate causal nomicities from putative nondeterminate noncausal nomicities. Whether this gets accomplished via some Aristotelian hylomorphism, weakly supervenient nonreductive physicalism or pragmatic semiotic realism matters little. One will have prescinded from any robust ontological account to a vague phenomenological heuristic.


At this point, in an Analogia Axiomata, due to a proper metaphysical bracketing, all ontological bets are still on vis a vis monisms, dualisms & pluralisms, im/materialisms, non/reductive physicalisms, idealisms, agnosticisms, atheisms, any of which, when properly articulated with logical consistency, external congruence, internal coherence, hypothetical consonance & interdisciplinary consilience, can compete equiplausibly with the others.


How, then, does anyone epistemically bust a move past an essential metaphysical agnosticism?


Speculatively, we all end up employing – not deductively conclusive, but – inductively & abductively suggestive cumulative case-like approaches. Logically, first principles, common sense notions of causality & principles of sufficient reason nondeductively ground our rationality. Ontologically, laws of nature & other regularities nomologically ground reality’s intelligibility, ampliatively guided by analogical heuristics. A problem regarding the nature of universals presents, including which nomicities are non/determinate, non/causal, in/finite, eternal or ephemeral, or real, conceptual or nominal. Here it is that we must start leaping, existentially, reasoning practically under speculative uncertainty regarding options that William James recognized as forced & vital. Here we turn over our bucket of epistemic frogs to see them leaping at various heights & distances and in every metaphysical direction.

How do we justify our leaps?

We all, in essence, appeal pragmatically to basic pre-propositional stances, which some refer to as self-evident but which turn out to be methodologically indispensable inductive-abductive inferences, which beg no deductive proofs & serve our episteme axiomatically. While it is one thing to evade deductive demonstration, it’s a wholly different matter to survive a reductio ad absurdum or parody of one’s particular stance regarding the nomological reliability of one’s “epistemically privileged” inductions & abductions.

More concretely, when eliminative materialists deny the exploratory necessity & explanatory adequacy of formal & final causes, at the same time, they are not denying the relations that obtain between various physical entities. They are, rather, suggesting that both the laws of nature & of logic, metanomologically, are nondeductive equations that model reality while, in principle, not delivering explanations, because they are, unavoidably, inductive-abductive deliverances, just like first principles, common sense causality, belief in other minds and principles of sufficient reason. For them, the Analogia Axiomata terminate in these noncaused nondeterminate axioms, dying an explanatory Godelian death in the energy plenum, itself, where its nomic realities lack a causal explanation but are otherwise “explained” in terms of their own nature, i.e. noncaused, nondeterminate & axiomatic. Necessary Axiomata.

I know what you’re thinking: “Explained? Really?”

Now you know how question begging appeals to Necessary Being come across to many?

Still, faced with forced & vital options in our practical reasoning under uncertainty, how do we otherwise adjudicate, before leaping, between epistemic & ontological options that, speculatively, all remain live?


Well, beyond further plausibilistic, cumulative case-like reasoning, evidentially, inductively testing our competing hermeneutics, pragmatically, we all employ, aware or unawares, an equiplausibility principle, which is not inconsistent with either evolution’s biological, sociological & anthropological imperatives or religion’s transcendental imperatives: Do the most life-giving & relationship-enhancing thing you can do in each present moment.

Thus, with Reason as our guide & Love as our imperative, when faced with Kant’s interrogatories: What can I know? What may I hope for? What must I do? —

We can reasonably hope to know what we must do, which is to love!


As we each aspire to the most eminently actionable existential leap, let us patiently forbear with one another’s existential orientations. In my worldview, not only has special revelation gifted a gratuity of grace, which others may not have doxastically appropriated and others may have mystically encountered, I believe the Spirit processed forth in a gratuity of creation, which has underwritten all human reason & values, which most have indeed appropriated, if formatively fortunate. Others, whose worldviews differ from my own, even if greatly, who display reason and proceed in love, have something to offer me. And, I believe, they deserve in kind reciprocation.

A wise man, Dan Fogelberg, once sang:

I have these moments
All steady and strong
I’m feeling so holy and humble
The next thing I know
I’m all worried and weak
And I feel myself starting to crumble
The meanings get lost
And the teachings get tossed
And you don’t know what
You’re going to do next
You wait for the sun
But it never quite comes
Some kind of message
Comes through to you
Some kind of message comes through
And it says to you. . .
Love when you can
Cry when you have to
Be who you must
That’s a part of the plan
Await your arrival
With simple survival
And one day we’ll all understand



Meanwhile – 

What makes some theistic formulations controversial, i.e. not universally compelling, is that they implicitly invoke some principle of sufficient reason but without specifying which version.

Stronger versions are untenable such as regarding free will & determinism. Propositional versions can conflict with our conceptions regarding the divine will and often reify propositions and then treat them as we do subsistent substances. Existential or causal versions must refer to more than materio-energetic causations. All versions will typically be argued variously employing formal syllogisms, semi-formal heuristics or even quasi-formal possible world semantics in conjunction with premises that are variously un/controversial, some representing supposedly self-evident abductive-inductive inferences refutable only by reductio appeals.

Even when such arguments are logically valid and employ relatively noncontroversial premises, however, too often, their conclusions don’t so much follow from their fallacy-free logic or uncontroversial premises but moreso lie rather tacitly embedded in the definitions of their terms, which craftily (or maybe, sometimes, even unreflectively) will variously employ either overly broad or overly narrow conceptions, which then, to the more vigilant, will come off as variously incoherent, mutually incompatible or downright dubious, leading to the conclusion that the argument is unsound. And this applies to such conceptions as “basic propositions” or “necessary entity” or even “sufficient reason,” itself.

Weaker metaphysical or metanomological versions seem indispensable & eminently defensible!

Still, it would be highly controversial to elevate same from a common sense, provisional, methodological stipulation to an ontological, first principle & metaphysical verity (something we dare not do with, for example, our commitment to methodological naturalism).

Maritain accepts the PSR as among the first principles (applying to all being, created & uncreated) , but Gilson, properly in my view, sees the formula as leading back to noncontradiction (applying to things both necessary & contingent).

Even as a first principle, we can distinguish between denying whether such as noncontradiction or a PSR is true and denying whether or not it’s applicable or limited in scope, e.g. modally (noncontradiction holds for probabilities & necessities but folds for possibilities).

So, we must be thoughtful regarding which common sense intuitions we imagine to be (or elevate to) explanatory primitives or absolute first principles, after which we must properly restrict the scope of their application, such as when, modally, we aspire to move from the vague to the precise (Peircean firstness), from the conceptually possible to the existentially actual (secondness), from the general to the specific (thirdness), where both noncontradiction & excluded middle may variously hold or fold and we may have to metaphysically prescind from necessity to probability.

We must not reify “nothing,” as “from nothing” (“ex nihilo”) means, rather, “not from anything.”

A contrastive account of the PSR fits well with Peirce’s description of abductive inference, which addresses: why this state of affairs & not otherwise? Hence, the PSR indicates that contrastive questions always have answers (an approach not adequately justified by Della Rocca’s & Pruss’s arguments). On its own terms, the PSR requires contrastive explanations (sometimes in terms of sets of reasons). And, if expanded to include explanations of a thing in terms of its own nature, such existential properties will require synthetic exploration beyond mere analytic explication.

As such, the PSR best be understood as a metanomological heuristic, which guides our causal explanations of variously indeterminate modal realities, whether overdetermined or vague possibilities, underdetermined or generalized probabilities or wholly determined necessities, not a priori taking any given indeterminacy as epistemic and/or ontic, i.e. merely methodologically constrained vs ontologically occulted, in principle.

Nomic determinism entails that events & states change – not in isolation, but – always via relations but doesn’t entail causal determinism, for not all events are causally related and not all processes are causally originated by, for example, new materio-energetic conversions or expenditures, even though they may well otherwise be influenced, nomically, by a variety of teloi, e.g. including previously embedded material formal causes.

A suitably restricted PSR will not raise objections from considerations of the divine will, quantum mechanics, Godelian incompleteness and objective randomness (and of course needn’t counter nonsensical objections like the modal quandaries of “grand conjunctive propositions”).

Further, when any given PSR version algorithmically maps to theism, then that PSR, itself, can in turn be undermined by any charges of incoherence in various theistic conceptions. Of course, if a given PSR maps only to a necessary entity, it wouldn’t necessarily also lead to a personal being (at least not uncontroversially).

It’s best to receive the PSR – not as an indubitable metaphysical theorem, but – as an indispensable metanomological heuristic.

The more generalized we make such a principle, the less work it can actually accomplish, epistemologically, and the more antinomies it will occasion ontologically, as it gets misappropriated to prove too much & say way more than we could possibly know.

Weaker claims vis a vis the PSR will be more universally compelling. For example, Scotus modally restricts it to “real possibilities,” i.e. those consistent with the basic laws (nomicities) and structures (forms) of the physical world. And he primarily applies it – not to accidentally, but – essentially ordered series.

As with Scotus’ argument, the real work to be accomplished by any PSR version vis a vis theism will not result in a conclusive demonstration (e.g. of an absolutely first efficient cause associated with any essentially ordered series), but instead will provide compelling intuitive support for theism’s possibility.

Few accept the strong Principle of Sufficient Reason – that there’s indeed a sufficient explanation for any fact in the world, but most embrace a weak version of PSR, e.g. as a metanomological heuristic, which entails that POSSIBLY such facts have an explanation. (e.g. Pruss employs a weak version like Scotus, but Pruss’ version might still entail a strong PSR.)

While this weak version can’t sustain the deductive cosmological argument (as it doesn’t finally require an explanation for the contingent), it does demonstrate that, if the contingent does have an explanation, its best version would be based on God-like activity, certainly consistent with classical theism but requiring further arguments to get there and even more to conclude to the requisite attributes.

This weak PSR locates its justification in both the pragmatics of explanation & metaphysics of contingency (for me, Peirce’s modal ontology & semiotic realism).

As long as one doesn’t deny the reality of eternal necessities, a priori, and of temporal nomicities, a posteriori, they will be affirming reality’s intelligibility & demonstrating their own rationality, implicitly subscribing to a principle of sufficient reason by the fact of their explicit employment of just such an indispensable metanomological heuristic. And they wouldn’t surrender their own rationality if, after the affirming the necessities & nomicities of a weak (e.g. Scotistic-Peircean more so than Gale-Pruss) version of the PSR, they don’t otherwise find subsequent cosmological arguments & divine attributions to be sufficiently compelling.

A fine little encyclopedia entry:

Afterward – Who’s Irrational and Whose Irrationalism?

Atheism is implicitly irrationalist insofar as it must deny PSR so as to avoid theism. Ed Feser

I’m certain Feser would follow in a manner like DBH, who, himself, does not see philosophical atheism as an intellectually valid or cogent position but as fundamentally irrational?

Certainly, like DBH he would qualify it as a much more limited assertion than it appears on the surface, for example, acknowledging that atheism’s neither intellectually contemptible nor suffers any deep logical inconsistency in its embrace of an ultimate absurdity. He’d also say that naturalism simply entails that nature equipped our brains for survival but not for access to abstract truths about the totality of things, but that none of this makes atheism untenable in any final sense and that it may be perfectly rational to embrace absurdity. (Cf. David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (2013) Yale University Press)

Now, others might counter that God similarly equipped our brains regarding the totality of things, which is why the lexicon of believers necessarily includes words like faith, hope and dogma?

And the astute philosophical observer might suggest that Feser and Hart’s chief complaint is not really that it’s epistemically irrational but that atheism’s realist philosophy is (unacceptably to them) implicitly pragmatic and nonfoundational, that, rather than proceeding from indubitably self-evident premises, instead, it plausibilistically but fallibilistically employs inductive-abductive inferences, both prior and subsequent to its deductive clarifications, in an ongoing irreducibly triadic inferential cycling, which progressively enhances the modeling power of reality for both individuals and earnest communities of inquiry. And that it even aspires to a plausible articulation of more nearly ultimate truths but in a more informal cumulative case-like approach rather than one that gifts them with the apodictic certainty, which some seem to embrace. Regarding such certainties, while I would hesitate to rob anyone of certain consolations that might flow from such attitudes (yes, essentially dispositions not propositions), at the same time, the existential dangers some can pose for societies or even ultimately our species compel me to dispossess any and all of such notions.

They may further object that some forms of pragmatism are vulgar in the Rortyian sense, but that’s a separate concern and not exhaustive of other nonfoundational or even weak foundational critical realisms, none of which elevate the postmodern critique into a system but most of which incorporate responses to same, responses which essentially jettisoned any remnants of metaphysical rationalisms and naïve realisms.

And, I’m quite certain that philosophers as astute as Feser and Hart have epistemologically followed suit even though, perhaps due to a rare combination of erudite eloquence and pugnacious polemics, their charges of epistemic vice are often intended to be more limited and less offensive than they can initially appear to us metaphysical luddites, who, by the way, have a very difficult time distinguishing the foundationalists’ self-evident truths from the nonfoundationalists’ pragmatically justified inductive-abductive inferences, which makes it really difficult to further distinguish their manifold and multiform rational proofs from pragmatically motivated cumulative case-like arguments.

Thus, they’ll forgive those who struggle to discern the very fine nuances involved in how it is they distinguish the rational and irrational, effectively very narrowly conceiving the former, expansively so – the latter?

Notes on Situating Meta-Nomological Heuristics

Below are emergentist categories that are agnostic to ontological primitives, in other words, neither invoking supervenience nor distinguishing weak & strong emergence, hence, consistent w/panpsychism, non/reductive physicalism, etc. Where one stops, explanatorily, will associate one with various causally non/reductive stances, for example, regarding a philosophy of mind.

  • Quantum Origins are Teleopotent – end-unbounded: materio-energetic & quantumly causal
  • Cosmic Origins are Teleomatic – end-stated: spatio-temporal & materially-efficiently causal
  • Biogenetic Origins are Teleonomic – end-directed: sensori-perceptive & instinctually abductive w/experience = mereological sum of parts functioning per meta-nomological heuristics
  • Sentient Origins are Teleoqualic – end-purposed: instinctually abductive & formally causal (downward) w/experience > mereological sum of functioning parts but still computational
  • Sapient Origins are Teleologic – end-intended: symbolically inferential & finally causal w/ experience > mereological sum of functioning parts & non-computational

Metaphysical Stances for Sorting

methodological stipulations

metaphysical presuppositions

modal identities

modal ontologies

semantic & metaphysical grammars & groundings (roles of first principles)

epistemological justifications (roles of PSRs, common sense, noninferentials & other axiomata)

ontological primitives

mereological efficacies

nomological realities

axiological origins

moral realisms

philosophies of mind

an entity’s intelligence (degrees)

reality’s intelligibility (degrees)

absolutist, necessitarian & infallibilist vs in/determinate, probabilistic & fallibilistic (role of principle of excluded middle)

conceptions of freedom


One simply can not a priori pretend to know to which metaphysical stances another subscribes solely from, for example, which worldview they hold regarding putative primal origins and ultimate realities, as if, for example, a particular philosophy of mind would necessarily be entailed by a given a/theological stance. At the same time, where one chooses to stop, explanatorily, for example, invoking various ignosticisms, will indeed logically foreclose on certain worldviews, for example, an eliminative materialism forecloses on all theistic stances (pantheism, panentheisms, classical theisms).

It’s best to categorize Naturalism > Physicalism > Materialism – because

Naturalism needn’t a priori define ontological primitives, e.g. consciousness could be a primitive.

Physicalism needn’t a priori entail causal reductionism, e.g. Nancey Murphy’s conception of the soul.

Materialism does a priori exclude metaphysical teloi, e.g. metaphysical ignosticism.

Also, one must be clear whether these categories are being applied strictly in a modal ontology of being, e.g. anthropologically, or for all metaphysical modes of identity, e.g. for reality writ large, primally & ultimately.


It may be more coherent to apply degrees of ir/rationality (variously adequate or sufficient) to only one type of reality, the personal, while describing reality writ large in terms of degrees of nomicity (variously adequate or sufficient) and perhaps of absurdism.

There simply are no Necessary Mutual Entailments for Atheism and any particular Anthropological Heuristic but there are some unilateral entailments where a given heuristic will entail atheism and/or absurdism/irrationalism.

Eliminative materialism entails atheism but does not entail irrationalism (a rejection of metanomological heuristics as a weak PSR) unless one uses a rather narrow conception of reason and expansive one of irrationality. Metanomological heuristics don’t require an epistemic resolution of whether laws of natures & logics are necessitarian or regularist, eternal or temporal, perduring or ephemeral.

Anthropological (Personal) Frame

Descriptive Heuristics – Epistemological: Radical Skepticism, Solipsism, Foundationalism (strong, weak) Nonfoundationalism (coherentist, radically deconstructivist), Evolutionary Epistemology

Interpretive Heuristics – Metaphysical Nominalism, Essentialism, Conceptualism, Pragmatism (vulgar, semiotic, etc)

Ontological Heuristics – Realism (naturalist, physicalist, materialist), Idealism (panpsychist), Hylomorphism

Evaluative Heuristics – Voluntarism, Intellectualism, Intellectualist Voluntarism (Scotist) or Voluntarist Intellectualism (Thomist), Sociobiological, Evolutionary Axiology

Normative Heuristics – Moral Relativism, Moral Realism, Moral Absolutism, Moral Probabilism

Transcendental Frame – Existentialism, Nihilism, Absurdism, A/theisms, Agnosticisms, Ignosticism

Im/Personal Heuristics – a/theological & anthropological

Modes of Identity Heuristics

Modes of Being Heuristics

Concerning Modes of Identity for Nondeterminate Realities

Ultimate Explanations are noncausal.
A reality lacking a causal explanation would be explained in terms of its own nature.

First principles & PSR are nondeductive but are intelligible in the context of inductive & abductive processes.

Feser writes:
When philosophers employ inductive reasoning they are essentially rejecting the claim that the future will not be relevantly like the past nor the unobserved like the observed, on the grounds that this would make future and otherwise unobserved phenomena inexplicable.

Perhaps some do, but most are essentially relying on the possibility that the future will be relevantly like the past, on the grounds that, if it is, the future and otherwise unobserved phenomena will be explicable, while, if it is not, it will be inexplicable in terms of past inductive & abductive processes.

But, this would not be to claim that future realities would be, in principle, inexplicable, only to recognize that our inductive-abductive processes may not be equipped to reliably explain unobserved phenomena from either the distant future or past, much less atemporal regularities and/or necessities.

This is also to recognize that we can’t a priori say which present nomological realities are by their very nature merely regularist or robustly necessitarian, but that it’s unreasonable to deny that, at least, some formal realities are necessary.

Applying Abelardian-like modes of identity & being, as we do, for example, in divine (nondeterminate) & determinate syllogistics, any such necessary reality that lacks a causal explanation and is to be explained in terms of its own nature would be explicable using – not determinate, but – nondeterminate syllogistics (semi-formal heuristics), where modes of identity (not being) apply, including the essential, exemplificatory and formal.

Essential identity, a semantic connotation or ground, refers to an immanent universal (not a Platonist standard form), a numerically singular or individual reality that is communicable to—predicable of— any exemplificatory (nonsubstantial & nondeterminate) supposita, which refer to metaphysical denotations or grounds, that fall under it.

Formal identity refers to connotative-denotative realities, i.e. real relations, e.g. regularities, generalities & neccesities.

Any coherent metanomological heuristic or PSR would not deny that there must, in principle, necessarily be some noncausal ultimate explanations that would refer, denominatively & determinatively, in different ways and to various extents, to some primal-ultimate reality, which, lacking a causal explanation, must be explained in terms of its own nature.

At the same time, that would not necessarily implicate, 1) essentially & connotatively, propria that are divine attributes; 2) exemplificatorily & denotatively, idiomata that are divine persons or, in any other way, personal; or 3) formally & nomologically, energeia that implicate divine vestigia & oikonomia. While such implications are undeniably rational, consistent & coherent and would flow, even necessarily, from some strong PSR versions, from less controversial PSRs a cosmological argument would not entail a personal first cause. That would require further argumentation, after which attributes would require additional derivations.

One would not want to deny that primal energeia must necessarily be conditioned by noncausal realities that could, in principle, be explained in nondeterminate terms of modal identity: essential propria, exemplificatory idiomata & formal energeia (energy in relationship). And such an explication would model whether or not such a dynamical energy plenum is necessarily volumetrically in/finite, manifoldly un/bounded, geometrically un/curved, topologically simple/complex and so on and locate any putative noncausal conditions, which we could hypothesize through abduction, hypothetically, and test through induction, experimentally, but not prove via deduction, formally, as such noncausal realities would be explained merely in terms of their own nature.

If such a noncaused reality were, however, personal & self-determinate, then such a divine esse naturale & intentionale would invite further reflection regarding PSR implications.

Closing Remarks

My late friend, Jim Arraj, explicated Maritain’s degrees of knowledge. He explored philosophical contemplation, objective intuition of being, subjective intuition of being, mysticism of self & mystical contemplation — none set over against the other, all furnishings of our holistic epistemic suite, all consonant with Lonergan’s theological anthropology.

Whatever our discursive or nondiscursive experience, prerational, nonrational, rational, suprarational or irrational, in order to best realize its fruits as well as to avoid any value-frustrations, human rationality must engage it in post-experiential processing and must do so in a community of earnest inquiry, wherein communal discernment can apply normative criteria to our descriptions, interpretations, evaluations, norms & transformations, justifying them in terms of – not only right believing, but – right belonging, right desiring, right behaving and right becoming.

Down thru millenia, even whole communities have gone astray, when they’ve traded any earnestness of inquiry for the expediencies of tribal exigencies. One hallmark of such epistemic-axiological perversity will typically involve both excessive broadenings & narrowings of criteria for epistemic & moral virtues & vices, excluding as many others from all manner of virtues, which must be reserved to one’s tribe, including as many others in all manner of vices, which just never afflict one’s tribe.

It has been a long considered opinion of mine that we simply cannot use a/theological criteria, alone, to a priori sort individuals from various worldviews into either epistemic or moral categories of either vice or virtue, including charges of irrationality, however absurd the ultimate consequences of their particular stances, which are seldom monolithic & often highly nuanced. This is not to deny that, for most every hermeneutic, there are cases of doxastic disaster & moral catastrophe, but those must be teased out, point by point, person by person & school by school, and not by categorical dismissal.

As a case in point, consider:

Perhaps the problem with merely “emergent phenomena” is the “merely“?

It’s certainly not with the emergentist account, itself. It’s when one further characterizes the phenomena in terms of variously weak & strong emergence and strong & weak supervenience.

Otherwise, emergentism is “merely” a heuristic device, which bookmarks determinate reality’s most intractable aporia, locating various origins of novelty in terms of “aboutness.” The most familiar include quantum, cosmic & biogenetic origins as well as those for consciousness (sentience) and symbolic language (sapience).

At each level of increasing complexity or ontological density, novel nomicities present, which suggest, in my view, analogous teloi & not some univocal telos. This is to say that not all of reality appears telic in a robustly teleological sense, which implicates end-intendedness.

Nomologically, we also encounter realities that are variously end-unbounded, at quantum origins, let’s say teleopotent; end-stated, at cosmic origins, or teleomatic; end-directed, at biogenetic origins, or teleonomic; and end-purposed, when sentience emerges, or teleoqualic.

Now, these are just phenomenological denominative connotations that don’t imply anything robustly denotative in a determinative sense. They aspire to successfully refer, semantically, to some rather distinct aboutnesses that we’ve encountered along our way, but without pretending to successfully describe, ontologically, those same realities in terms of various primitives, givens, axioms & such. They’re only vague nomological categories, where different law-like properties emerge, none of which completely lend themselves to either epistemic or ontological reduction.

Now, if those vaguely referenced teloi serve as a mere exploratory heuristic rather than a robustly explanatory account, how much more vague is our Aristotelian telos & how much less should anyone pretend it’s an explanatory system?

As CS Peirce noted, it’s easy to be certain; all one has to do is to remain sufficiently vague!

Now, I’m personally drawn to an hylomorphic heuristic with its formal causal acts in potency to final causes. But I use it to help me keep my modal ontological categories straight, not to adjudicate competing quantum interpretations, cosmogonic accounts, biogenetic hypotheses, philosophies of mind or language origin theories. For sure, it doesn’t tell me which of reality’s generalities & nomicities are merely regularist or clearly necessitarian, which indeterminacies are epistemic or ontic, in/determinable or in/determined. Sure, some are ontologically suggestive but none are metaphysically decisive.

Bottomline, we mustn’t be too quick to charge other heuristic accounts with all manner of irrationalities, as long as they employ, in my view, a weak principle of sufficient reason in the form – not of the epistemic equivalent of a 1st Principle, but – of a “mere” metanomological heuristic, which honors both the laws of nature and of logic and not, instead, some inflated sense of rationality, which flirts with a metaphysical rationalism & naive realism.

Any coherent metanomological heuristic or PSRmn would not deny that there must, in principle, necessarily be some noncausal ultimate explanations that would refer, denominatively & determinatively, in different ways and to various extents, to some primal-ultimate reality, which, lacking a causal explanation, must be explained in terms of its own nature. Who, though, is to a priori specify whether that nondeterminate nomicity would govern, bound & condition divine energeia versus some dynamical energy plenum?

I appreciate that certain philosophies of mind & cosmologies & philosophical anthropologies prove too much. But they all seem to deny too much, too, sometimes. Those flaky accounts, whether deflationarily ignostic & eliminative of various true aporia or inflationarily gnostic & apodictic with their expansive use of self-evidentials, deserve cursory dismissals. But there are other highly nuanced & self-critical competing a/theological accounts that are, in my view, equiplausible, which can serve us all as much better foils to tighten up our competing tautologies?

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!

An Equiplausibility Principle to Adjudicate the Existential Actionability of a Practical Reasoning Under Uncertainty

Regarding being, reality & existence, interpretations (mostly emergentist) of everything, TOE’s, turn on various presuppositions or priors:

Mereological – whole/part relations

Methodological – principle of reason

Metaphysical – root metaphor

From those presuppositions, we can formulate all sorts of equiplausible interpretations.

Generally, those compete favorably with each other to compel our attention & persuade our intellect.

Not all are equally inviting, transformatively, or inspiring, morally, because some just aren’t at all engaging, evaluatively, to most people.

Beyond an equiplausible epistemic warrant, the existential actionability of such interpretations will turn on normative justifications for practical reasoning under uncertainty

employing equiplausibility principles like choosing to act as if the most life-giving & relationship-enhancing response will best lead us to – not only the best way & life, but – the truth.

We choose like this in our quotidian affairs regarding our proximate concerns & can defensibly justify doing so regarding our ultimate concerns.

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:…

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