The Carriage Objection and the Creation of Logic
An old objection to cosmological arguments,
named “the Carriage Objection” by Schopenhauer,
charges them as being arbitrary: the arguments are employed to carry you to the
existence of God, but no further (as the carriage carries you to some
destination to be dismissed then, therefore the name of the objection). A simple
cosmological argument claims the existence of the universe to require
explanation, and offers God as the cause of the universe. The Carriage Objection
now asks why the principle of sufficient explanation that carried the
argument forth to God will not carry us on to a sufficient explanation of God,
and then on – ad infinitum. The regress is considered to be vicious. If
one was to accept some brute fact (like the existence of God) then why not stop
with the brute fact of the existence of the universe?
The objection has several weaknesses, as
has been pointed out several times. For example, cosmological arguments from
fine-tuning argue that the values of the natural constants are still in need of
explanation, even if one takes the existence of the universe as a brute fact. As
for the application of the principle of sufficient explanation some philosophers
have claimed that it does not carry us any further, since God as metaphysically
necessary is – in contrast to the universe as metaphysically contingent
– not the type of entity which stands in need of explanation.
Whether these are good replies to the
Carriage Objection will not concern us here in detail, what they presuppose,
however, is a commitment to assumptions about God’s Nature – as do
several other arguments in the philosophy of religion (like God being wholly
good, being outside space, knowing the past completely etc.).
With respect to God’s Nature a problem
arises that resembles the Carriage Objection. God’s Nature seems to be something
– a structure? – that is given even to Him. In the middle ages
philosophers argued that God’s inability to create the impossible (like a
stone that not even He could lift or a proof of squaring the circle) is no
objection to His omnipotence, since one must not demand breaking the laws of
Where then do the laws of logic come from?
A dilemma raises its head:
The one horn sees the laws of logic as
necessary in the strictest sense (i.e. at least metaphysically necessary or
logically necessary in a sense even beyond that) and given with God’s Nature.
Arguments against God’s omnipotence (because of the inability to create an
unliftable stone etc.) do not go through then. Now, however, God seems to be
limited by His nature (i.e. by finding Himself possessing this nature and not
another). Further on, once we allow for God having just this nature to be
a brute fact, we are again allowing for brute facts,
and adherents of the Carriage Objection may stop somewhat earlier then.
The other horn sees God’s Nature as being
under His control. Some philosopher argue with respect to time that God
committed Himself to be changeable by the creation of beings with free will (and
thus unforeseeable actions), and thus changed one of His attributes. One may ask
whether immutability was essential to Him in the first place then. In any
case, however, a major problem remains: Even if He committed Himself to, say, tertium
non datur by creating logic, there has to be some modus operandi by which He operates, even if His operations concern
changing His own nature. One can hardly give up the idea that even God in
achieving something uses some means (even if it is merely a thought of Him) to
an end. And x being a means to an end y
presupposes some minimal sense of x
being operational in bringing y about.
So there is a mode of operation of x.
And then these mechanisms employed are beyond His control. The whole argument
starts all over again, a vicious regress seems to loom here. If anyone goes
along this path God’s Nature seems to dissolve: One approaches some being
(whatever that now may mean) with undifferentiated structure or nature, one
departs from the God of Theism, not to speak of the Christian God.
Teaching philosophy of religion classes regularly I consulted a bunch
of recent anthologies and handbooks in the last few years. For
instance: Philosophy of Religion.
The Big Questions, ed. by Eleonore Stump and Michael Murray. Oxford, 1999; A
Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. by Philip L. Quinn and Charles
Taliafferro. Oxford, 1997; Contemporary
Debates in Philosophy of Religion, ed. by Michael Petersen and Raymond
VanArragon. Oxford, 2004. None
of them (including The
by Joshua Hoffmann and Gary Rosenkrantz. Oxford, 2002)
squarely confronts the problem discussed here.
writes, discussing the cosmological argument, in Über
die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde (§20) that the
principle of causality cannot be used ‘like a carriage which can be send
home after one has arrived where one wanted to go’. There is another passage to the same
point in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (p.55) where Schopenhauer
writes that the quest for an ultimate cause is dismissed after establishing
God as the prime mover 'just like the bees kill the drones after they have
served their purpose'. So one might call Schopenhauer’s objection ‘the
drone objection’ as well.