Sunday, January 17, 2010

Does the Cosmological Argument commit the Fallacy of Composition?

Bertrand Russell thought so.

R: I can illustrate what seems to me your fallacy. Every man who exists has a mother, and it seems to me your argument is that therefore the human race must have a mother, but obviously the human race hasn't a mother -- that's a different logical sphere.


Clayton said...

I think context is important here. He seems to be focused on a version of the cosmological argument that tries to remain neutral on the question as to whether the world had a beginning/first moment but argue that the series itself must have had a cause on the grounds that each member of the series of events the naturalist believes in has a cause. It seems to have some force in addressing Clarke's version of the cosmological argument, for example.

Finney said...

the reason the human race does not have to have a mother is because it's wrong that "every man had a mother." the premise is wrong. but is its analogue also wrong, that every individual physical piece of the universe is contingent?

Clayton said...

Imagine the universe consisted of a series of events. Let a, b, and c be three of those actual events. It may well be contingent that a occurred, b occurred, and c occurred. However, even if it is true that it is contingent that any one of these events occurred, it does not follow that it contingent that any event occurred. It could still be necessary that either a occurred or something else besides a occurred. It could still be necessary that b or something else occurred even if it is contingent whether b occurred.

Think about baseball. The Yankees have their nine starters and it is contingent who starts. It is not, however, contingent that there will be nine starters when the game starts. That's necessary. I take it that this is part of Russell's point. Even if every member of the starting lineup is there contingently, that there is a starting line up at all might not be contingent. Even if every member of the series of natural events is contingent, it may well be that the series itself is necessary.