Turtles All the Way Down

Reblogged from The Underground Thomist:

Whenever we say that some being, P, is wise, we can ask the further question “Why should P be considered wise?”  In every such case there are two possible answers.  One is that P is the first principle of wisdom, its very root and unchangeable meaning – that it isn’t wise because of something else, but is the very thing that makes other wise things wise.  You [the blogger’s interlocutor] don’t want to give that answer, because to you, first principles seem to be arbitrary, just because no further reason can be given for them.  You want to say that if P should be considered wise, the reason must lie in the fact that it conforms to some deeper standard – call it P2.

Very well.  But wait:  Now we have to ask “Why should P2 be considered wise?”  Again, there are two possible answers.  Either P2 is the very root and meaning of wisdom, or it isn’t.  Again you worry that this makes it arbitrary, so suppose we say it isn’t.  In that case, P2 must be wise not because it is the very root and meaning of wisdom, but because it conforms to some still deeper standard – call it P3.

As you can see, if you continue to object to a root and meaning of wisdom, then we are going to have an infinite regress of reasons for considering P wise:  P is wise because it conforms to P2, P2 is wise because it conforms to P3, P3 is wise because it conforms to P4, and so on without end.  But an infinite regress of explanations is no an explanation at all.  If you are worried about arbitrariness, the thing to avoid isn’t a necessary first principle, but an infinite regress.

Thus we must believe that at some point the regress has to stop.  We do, finally, arrive at something, call it P Prime, which is the very root and meaning of wisdom.  And if that is what it is, then just because it doesn’t depend on anything else, it cannot be other than it is.  And just because it cannot be other than it is, it isn’t arbitrary.  A mystery, yes, in the sense that it is greater than our minds.  But arbitrary, no.

I am not sure what tempts us to think that something is arbitrary just because it cannot be other than it is.  We don’t say that the arithmetical principle that two things equal to a third thing are equal to each other is arbitrary.  We say that it is a standard by which we can tell what other things are arbitrary.  I think we should think that way here.

But P Prime is much more than a principle of arithmetic.  As we continue to reflect, we find P Prime to be not only the very root and meaning of wisdom, but the very root and meaning of being, of goodness, of beauty, and of everything that is worthy of admiration.  In P Prime we find even the very root and meaning of Personhood, so we are right to view P Prime not as It, but as Him.

This necessary being P Prime is what we call God.  We Christians make the further daring claim that He is the very God of our faith and has come among us.

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2 thoughts on “Turtles All the Way Down

  1. Another excellent, thought-provoking post.

    Christ declared, “I am the truth,” not “I am a truth.” He is the prime truth, the standard. He is Truth. Whatever happens to be true is true because it participates in or is derived from the Truth.

    If a finite human intellect could trace an infinite regress to its source, it would find that source to be the Infinite, Who is God. He must exist as the Truth because we know of truths.

    Liked by 1 person

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