First Cause

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Subcontrary
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First Cause

Post by Subcontrary »

I wonder if anyone is familiar with John Duns Scotus's argument for a first cause. It's a lot, I admit, but hopefully someone can offer a Buddhist rejoinder to the argument! I am having trouble figuring out the precise problem, but I have a few ideas. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way:
(1) No effect can produce itself.
(2) No effect can be produced by just nothing at all.
(3) A circle of causes is impossible.
(4) Therefore, an effect must be produced by something else. (from 1, 2, and 3)
(5) There is no infinite regress in an essentially ordered series of causes.
I think up until (5) the argument has no errors, but all doctrines of Buddhism of which I am aware do in fact assert an infinite chain of causes. Below is Scotus's argument against the infinite regress:
(5a) It is not necessarily the case that a being possessing a causal power C possesses C in an imperfect way.
(5b) Therefore, it is possible that C is possessed without imperfection by some item.
(5c) If it is not possible for any item to possess C without dependence on some prior item, then it is not possible that there is any item that possesses C without imperfection (since dependence is a kind of imperfection).
(5d) Therefore, it is possible that some item possesses C without dependence on some prior item. (from 5b and 5c by modus tollens)
(5e) Any item possessing C without dependence on some prior item is a first agent (i.e., an agent that is not subsequent to any prior causes in an essentially ordered series).
(5f) Therefore, it is possible that something is a first agent. (from 5d and 5e)
(5g) If it is possible that something is a first agent, something is a first agent. (For, by definition, if there were no first agent, there would be no cause that could bring it about, so it would not in fact be possible for there to be a first agent.)
(5h) Therefore, something is a first agent (i.e., an agent that is not subsequent to any prior causes in an essentially ordered series)
I think a huge problem here is the issue of "perfection" and "imperfection." Scotus might be using the term to mean rather "complete" and "incomplete" rather than "flawless" and "flawed," in which case (5a) seems to be the problem, and in fact it IS necessarily the case that a being possessing a causal power C possesses C in an imperfect (i.e. incomplete) way, if, per (5c) "dependence is a kind of imperfection." I believe Nagarjuna argued extensively against the notion supplied in (5a), but I am hoping to hear all of your thoughts!

I know this post might be TLDR but I hope in any case that it is of interest!
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frantisek
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Re: First Cause

Post by frantisek »

I don't know to what extent you should take what I say with trust as I haven't touched the book in a bit, but I think Nagarjuna goes into at least his attempt at refuting arguments of first cause. Something like question how many could come from one I think was his main point, and so reaffirms dependent origination.
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: First Cause

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Subcontrary wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:25 pm
(1) No effect can produce itself.
(2) No effect can be produced by just nothing at all.
(3) A circle of causes is impossible.
(4) Therefore, an effect must be produced by something else. (from 1, 2, and 3)
(5) There is no infinite regress in an essentially ordered series of causes.
I don’t think there’s any significant contradiction with Buddhist theory even though on the surface one might think so, considering that we use phrases such as “beginningless time” and argue as a basis for rebirth the fact that awareness itself has no beginning.
But in order to address the problem, let’s bring a few players into the ring, let’s interject the notion of dharmas referring to basically any object of awareness (not just specifically Buddhadharma) . Dharmas are whatever you are asserting, including either a cause or an effect.

And then let’s look at #3 on this list. And while balancing all that on our plate, let’s involve the concept of sunyata (emptiness). Now, we can address the question.
The problem with the list is that it depends on isolating dharmas as existent things.
In other words, it argues that a table can’t have an infinite origin. And that would be true if anything could be found which by itself could be identified as a table,
In short, everything has infinite origins precisely because nothing ‘exists’. The table has infinite origins because there is no table.
EMPTIFUL.
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Aemilius
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Re: First Cause

Post by Aemilius »

In Buddhism a circle of causes is what happens: summer follows spring, autumn follows summer, winter follows autumn, and spring follows winter, etc...

The kalpa of emptiness precedes the kalpa of formation, the kalpa of formation precedes the kalpa of maturity, the kalpa of maturity precedes the kalpa of destruction, the kalpa of destruction precedes the kalpa of emptiness. And so on...

Death precedes birth, birth precedes life/existence(bhava), and life precedes death. Etc...
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
Täpa
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Re: First Cause

Post by Täpa »

This is an interesting question i had pondered a long time. I cannot remember where i heard the following, but it opened my way of thinking. It was something like this:
How can there be a cause without a cause? This is not logical. An other way of approaching, is that an effect spontaneously came into existence, causing an other effect. In this way the effect is the cause of an effect. For an effect without cause to be the primal cause, is the most logical in dualistic thought.
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: First Cause

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Aemilius wrote: Fri Sep 17, 2021 8:51 am In Buddhism a circle of causes is what happens: summer follows spring, autumn follows summer, winter follows autumn, and spring follows winter, etc...

The kalpa of emptiness precedes the kalpa of formation, the kalpa of formation precedes the kalpa of maturity, the kalpa of maturity precedes the kalpa of destruction, the kalpa of destruction precedes the kalpa of emptiness. And so on...

Death precedes birth, birth precedes life/existence(bhava), and life precedes death. Etc...
Yes. (3) on the list looked highly questionable to me, too. If A causes B, B causes C, C causes D ... n causes A, we have a circle of causes that is quite possible. The only "impossible" thing about it is that there is no starting point, but the fact that the circle exists now does not mean that it always has or always will.

:namaste:
Kim
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Re: First Cause

Post by Crazywisdom »

Subcontrary wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:25 pm I wonder if anyone is familiar with John Duns Scotus's argument for a first cause. It's a lot, I admit, but hopefully someone can offer a Buddhist rejoinder to the argument! I am having trouble figuring out the precise problem, but I have a few ideas. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way:
(1) No effect can produce itself.
(2) No effect can be produced by just nothing at all.
(3) A circle of causes is impossible.
(4) Therefore, an effect must be produced by something else. (from 1, 2, and 3)
(5) There is no infinite regress in an essentially ordered series of causes.
I think up until (5) the argument has no errors, but all doctrines of Buddhism of which I am aware do in fact assert an infinite chain of causes. Below is Scotus's argument against the infinite regress:
(5a) It is not necessarily the case that a being possessing a causal power C possesses C in an imperfect way.
(5b) Therefore, it is possible that C is possessed without imperfection by some item.
(5c) If it is not possible for any item to possess C without dependence on some prior item, then it is not possible that there is any item that possesses C without imperfection (since dependence is a kind of imperfection).
(5d) Therefore, it is possible that some item possesses C without dependence on some prior item. (from 5b and 5c by modus tollens)
(5e) Any item possessing C without dependence on some prior item is a first agent (i.e., an agent that is not subsequent to any prior causes in an essentially ordered series).
(5f) Therefore, it is possible that something is a first agent. (from 5d and 5e)
(5g) If it is possible that something is a first agent, something is a first agent. (For, by definition, if there were no first agent, there would be no cause that could bring it about, so it would not in fact be possible for there to be a first agent.)
(5h) Therefore, something is a first agent (i.e., an agent that is not subsequent to any prior causes in an essentially ordered series)
I think a huge problem here is the issue of "perfection" and "imperfection." Scotus might be using the term to mean rather "complete" and "incomplete" rather than "flawless" and "flawed," in which case (5a) seems to be the problem, and in fact it IS necessarily the case that a being possessing a causal power C possesses C in an imperfect (i.e. incomplete) way, if, per (5c) "dependence is a kind of imperfection." I believe Nagarjuna argued extensively against the notion supplied in (5a), but I am hoping to hear all of your thoughts!

I know this post might be TLDR but I hope in any case that it is of interest!
3) is unproven
4) is unproven


It's just wishful thinking
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frantisek
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Re: First Cause

Post by frantisek »

Crazywisdom wrote: Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:57 pm
3) is unproven
4) is unproven


It's just wishful thinking
Wouldn't be a bit more charitable to say something like that we do not find the possibility of of an infinite chain of causes implausible, given the problems with asserting that there must be some first cause (self-causation being contradictory)?

Or at the very least, following Nagarjuna, we should suspend our judgement on it going either way?
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Sherab
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Re: First Cause

Post by Sherab »

Kim O'Hara wrote: Sat Sep 18, 2021 1:42 am
Aemilius wrote: Fri Sep 17, 2021 8:51 am In Buddhism a circle of causes is what happens: summer follows spring, autumn follows summer, winter follows autumn, and spring follows winter, etc...

The kalpa of emptiness precedes the kalpa of formation, the kalpa of formation precedes the kalpa of maturity, the kalpa of maturity precedes the kalpa of destruction, the kalpa of destruction precedes the kalpa of emptiness. And so on...

Death precedes birth, birth precedes life/existence(bhava), and life precedes death. Etc...
Yes. (3) on the list looked highly questionable to me, too. If A causes B, B causes C, C causes D ... n causes A, we have a circle of causes that is quite possible. The only "impossible" thing about it is that there is no starting point, but the fact that the circle exists now does not mean that it always has or always will.

:namaste:
Kim
If A causes B, B causes C and C causes A, it would mean that C has to travel back in time to cause A. If that is possible, then dependent arising links can link both forward and backward in time. I don't think the Buddha taught that.
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: First Cause

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Yes, but if A causes B, B causes C and C causes a recurrence of A, which is the sort of loop I was thinking of, we're okay - I think. It depends on whether the new A is "the same as" the old A or different. Or neither the same nor different, I suppose. :juggling:

But it's too late here/now for that sort of thing. :smile:

:zzz:
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Re: First Cause

Post by Crazywisdom »

frantisek wrote: Sat Sep 18, 2021 11:56 pm
Crazywisdom wrote: Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:57 pm
3) is unproven
4) is unproven


It's just wishful thinking
Wouldn't be a bit more charitable to say something like that we do not find the possibility of of an infinite chain of causes implausible, given the problems with asserting that there must be some first cause (self-causation being contradictory)?

Or at the very least, following Nagarjuna, we should suspend our judgement on it going either way?
First causes are unknowable. Infinite regression is all the evidence suggests. Has anyone found any uncaused cause, ever? No.
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: First Cause

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Sometimes I think about the fact that none of this ever had to happen. Not me, not you, no time or space, no depth. No awareness or any objects of awareness. Absolutely nothing.
The light just never got flicked on, nothing ever happened or existed. Just “not”.

It then occurs to me that for that to be the case, there would either have to be like one giant, infinite, hollow-ness, or, there would be a complete solid, like an infinite block of cement.

But if nothing had ever happened, not even those options would exist.

In my mind, and in relation to a “first cause” this suggests that one can only look around and see if it happened or not. Either it did, or it didn’t.

Apparently it did, because I’m aware of …something.

So, a first cause isn’t possible, because either time and space and depth and awareness have always been happening, and it’s all here, or they haven’t, and nothing is here.

(This isn’t about existentialism vs nihilism, btw).

If one asks, “well, what caused all this to be?” The answer is that there cannot be a first cause, simply because it’s either all here or it isn’t.

If one says, “PvS, I’m not entirely sure that you are all here!” There is probably some truth in that.
EMPTIFUL.
An inward outlook develops outward insight.
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: First Cause

Post by Kim O'Hara »

:thumbsup:
Yes.
But ...
PadmaVonSamba wrote: Sun Sep 19, 2021 3:09 pm Sometimes I think about the fact that none of this ever had to happen. Not me, not you, no time or space, no depth. No awareness or any objects of awareness. Absolutely nothing.
The light just never got flicked on, nothing ever happened or existed. Just “not”.

It then occurs to me that for that to be the case, there would either have to be like one giant, infinite, hollow-ness, or, there would be a complete solid, like an infinite block of cement. ...
Neither of those seems reasonable to me. I don't think we can conceive of complete nothingness - "no space" runs counter to all the "empty" situations we have ever encountered.

But anyway, I want to share another first-cause possibility, not because I believe in it (or ever believed it, in fact) but because I really liked it when I first came across it as a teenager. It's so neat that it's satisfying even if it's wrong.
The Sole Solution by Eric Frank Russell

He brooded in darkness and there was no one else. Not a voice, not a whisper. Not the touch of a hand. Not the warmth of another heart.

Darkness.

Solitude.

Eternal confinement where all was black and silent and nothing stirred. Imprisonment without prior condemnation. Punishment without sin. The unbearable that had to be borne unless some mode of escape could be devised.

No hope of rescue from elsewhere. No sorrow or sympathy or pity in another soul, another mind. No doors to be opened, no locks to be turned, no bars to be sawn apart. Only the thick, deep sable night in which to fumble and find nothing.

Circle a hand to the right and there is nought. Sweep an arm to the left and discover emptiness utter and complete. Walk forward through the darkness like a blind man lost in a vast, forgotten hall and there is no floor, no echo of footsteps, nothing to bar one’s path.

He could touch and sense one thing only. And that was self.

Therefore the only available resources with which to overcome his predicament were those secreted within himself. He must be the instrument of his own salvation.

How?

No problem is beyond solution. By that thesis science lives. Without it, science dies. He was the ultimate scientist. As such, he could not refuse this challenge to his capabilities.

His torments were those of boredom, loneliness, mental and physical sterility. They were not to be endured. The easiest escape is via the imagination. One hangs in a strait-jacket and flees the corporeal trap by adventuring in a dreamland of one’s own.

But dreams are not enough. They are unreal and all too brief. The freedom to be gained must be genuine and of long duration. That meant he must make a stern reality of dreams, a reality so contrived that it would persist for all time. It must be self-perpetuating. Nothing less would make escape complete.

So he sat in the great dark and battled the problem. There was no clock, no calendar to mark the length of thought. There were no external data upon which to compute. There was nothing, nothing except the workings within his agile mind.

And one thesis: no problem is beyond solution.

He found it eventually. It meant escape from everlasting night. It would provide experience, companionship, adventure, mental exercise, entertainment, warmth, love, the sound of voices, the touch of hands.

The plan was anything but rudimentary. On the contrary it was complicated enough to defy untangling for endless aeons. It had to be like that to have permanence. The unwanted alternative was swift return to silence and the bitter dark.

It took a deal of working out. A million and one aspects had to be considered along with all their diverse effects upon each other. And when that was done he had to cope with the next million. And so on … on … on.

He created a mighty dream of his own, a place of infinite complexity schemed in every detail to the last dot and comma. Within this he would live anew. But not as himself. He was going to dissipate his person into numberless parts, a great multitude of variegated shapes and forms each of which would have to battle its own peculiar environment.

And he would toughen the struggle to the limit of endurance by unthinking himself, handicapping his parts with appalling ignorance and forcing them to learn afresh. He would seed enmity between them by dictating the basic rules of the game. Those who observed the rules would be called good. Those who did not would be called bad. Thus there would be endless delaying conflicts within the one great conflict.

When all was ready and prepared he intended to disrupt and become no longer one, but an enormous concourse of entities. Then his parts must fight back to unity and himself.

But first he must make reality of the dream. Ah, that was the test!

The time was now. The experiment must begin.

Leaning forward, he gazed into the dark and said, ‘Let there be light.’

And there was light.
That's the whole of it. It has a counterpart from the same period of SF, "The Nine Billion Names of God", which some folk here may like even more. :smile:

:reading:
Kim
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Sherab
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Re: First Cause

Post by Sherab »

Crazywisdom wrote: Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:57 pm
Subcontrary wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:25 pm I wonder if anyone is familiar with John Duns Scotus's argument for a first cause. It's a lot, I admit, but hopefully someone can offer a Buddhist rejoinder to the argument! I am having trouble figuring out the precise problem, but I have a few ideas. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way:
(1) No effect can produce itself.
(2) No effect can be produced by just nothing at all.
(3) A circle of causes is impossible.
(4) Therefore, an effect must be produced by something else. (from 1, 2, and 3)
(5) There is no infinite regress in an essentially ordered series of causes.
I think up until (5) the argument has no errors, but all doctrines of Buddhism of which I am aware do in fact assert an infinite chain of causes. Below is Scotus's argument against the infinite regress:
(5a) It is not necessarily the case that a being possessing a causal power C possesses C in an imperfect way.
(5b) Therefore, it is possible that C is possessed without imperfection by some item.
(5c) If it is not possible for any item to possess C without dependence on some prior item, then it is not possible that there is any item that possesses C without imperfection (since dependence is a kind of imperfection).
(5d) Therefore, it is possible that some item possesses C without dependence on some prior item. (from 5b and 5c by modus tollens)
(5e) Any item possessing C without dependence on some prior item is a first agent (i.e., an agent that is not subsequent to any prior causes in an essentially ordered series).
(5f) Therefore, it is possible that something is a first agent. (from 5d and 5e)
(5g) If it is possible that something is a first agent, something is a first agent. (For, by definition, if there were no first agent, there would be no cause that could bring it about, so it would not in fact be possible for there to be a first agent.)
(5h) Therefore, something is a first agent (i.e., an agent that is not subsequent to any prior causes in an essentially ordered series)
I think a huge problem here is the issue of "perfection" and "imperfection." Scotus might be using the term to mean rather "complete" and "incomplete" rather than "flawless" and "flawed," in which case (5a) seems to be the problem, and in fact it IS necessarily the case that a being possessing a causal power C possesses C in an imperfect (i.e. incomplete) way, if, per (5c) "dependence is a kind of imperfection." I believe Nagarjuna argued extensively against the notion supplied in (5a), but I am hoping to hear all of your thoughts!

I know this post might be TLDR but I hope in any case that it is of interest!
3) is unproven
4) is unproven


It's just wishful thinking
Unless you are prepared to accept time paradoxes, premise (3) should be accepted. In other words, causal chains arise in sequential time or simultaneously. There is no backward causation, at least in the classical world. Although the delayed choice experiment seems to indicate the existence of backward causality, the jury in reality is still out.
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: First Cause

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Kim O'Hara wrote: Sun Sep 19, 2021 11:50 pm :thumbsup:
Yes.
But ...
PadmaVonSamba wrote: Sun Sep 19, 2021 3:09 pm Sometimes I think about the fact that none of this ever had to happen. Not me, not you, no time or space, no depth. No awareness or any objects of awareness. Absolutely nothing.
The light just never got flicked on, nothing ever happened or existed. Just “not”.

It then occurs to me that for that to be the case, there would either have to be like one giant, infinite, hollow-ness, or, there would be a complete solid, like an infinite block of cement. ...
Neither of those seems reasonable to me. I don't think we can conceive of complete nothingness - "no space" runs counter to all the "empty" situations we have ever encountered.
yes, it’s almost an unfathomable proposition. Yet it stands, all or nothing, as they say.
EMPTIFUL.
An inward outlook develops outward insight.
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: First Cause

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Crucially, the [Big Bang] theory is compatible with Hubble–Lemaître law—the observation that the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it is moving away from Earth. Extrapolating this cosmic expansion backwards in time using the known laws of physics, the theory describes an increasingly concentrated cosmos preceded by a singularity in which space and time lose meaning (typically named "the Big Bang singularity").
:reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang
If the idea of time was meaningless before the Big Bang singularity, there was never a time when nothing existed so the universe has :quoteunquote: always :quoteunquote: existed and therefore has no beginning and its existence doesn't entail a First Cause.

Maybe.

:smile:
Kim
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Aemilius
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Re: First Cause

Post by Aemilius »

19. Investigation of Time

1. If the present and the future were contingent on the past, then the present and the future would have existed in the past.

2. If the present and future did not exist there, then how could the present and the future be contingent on it?


Verses from the Center
Mula madhyamaka karika
Nagarjuna
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
Crazywisdom
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Re: First Cause

Post by Crazywisdom »

Sherab wrote: Mon Sep 20, 2021 1:16 am
Crazywisdom wrote: Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:57 pm
Subcontrary wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:25 pm I wonder if anyone is familiar with John Duns Scotus's argument for a first cause. It's a lot, I admit, but hopefully someone can offer a Buddhist rejoinder to the argument! I am having trouble figuring out the precise problem, but I have a few ideas. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way:



I think up until (5) the argument has no errors, but all doctrines of Buddhism of which I am aware do in fact assert an infinite chain of causes. Below is Scotus's argument against the infinite regress:



I think a huge problem here is the issue of "perfection" and "imperfection." Scotus might be using the term to mean rather "complete" and "incomplete" rather than "flawless" and "flawed," in which case (5a) seems to be the problem, and in fact it IS necessarily the case that a being possessing a causal power C possesses C in an imperfect (i.e. incomplete) way, if, per (5c) "dependence is a kind of imperfection." I believe Nagarjuna argued extensively against the notion supplied in (5a), but I am hoping to hear all of your thoughts!

I know this post might be TLDR but I hope in any case that it is of interest!
3) is unproven
4) is unproven


It's just wishful thinking
Unless you are prepared to accept time paradoxes, premise (3) should be accepted. In other words, causal chains arise in sequential time or simultaneously. There is no backward causation, at least in the classical world. Although the delayed choice experiment seems to indicate the existence of backward causality, the jury in reality is still out.
A jury who can see backwards in time? Time Gods!!!!
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Sherab
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Re: First Cause

Post by Sherab »

Kim O'Hara wrote: Sun Sep 19, 2021 1:04 pm Yes, but if A causes B, B causes C and C causes a recurrence of A, which is the sort of loop I was thinking of, we're okay - I think. It depends on whether the new A is "the same as" the old A or different. Or neither the same nor different, I suppose. :juggling:

But it's too late here/now for that sort of thing. :smile:

:zzz:
Kim
A causal chain is made of specific events. Generic has no place in a causal chain.
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