Infinite regress, circularity or axiomatic beliefs. Pick one.

I spent some time talking about metaphysics with my other half. There are physical facts. Jupiter pulls smaller things towards it. The sun is hot. Any epistemic system needs to explain physical facts. Why is the sun hot? Because of nuclear fusion. Why is nuclear fusion happening? Because the sun is large enough for its gravity to force atoms together. The problem is that explanations of fact/ law requires referencing another different fact/law. Saying that X is the case because X is the case isn’t acceptable. We need a deeper reason. The problem then is that for every law or fact you use to explain something, you generate another question asking for that fact or law to be explained in turn. There are only four possible ways this kind of chain can end:

  • Infinite regress
  • Circularity
  • Axiomatic/foundational/unjustified beliefs
  • A magic fact/law which is self-explaining and requires no explanation.

Circularity and infinite regress are unsatisfying and illogical. Systems which accept them are usually just trying to hide the fact that they, like any system of beliefs, rest on axiomatic beliefs which are not empirically justified. Finding a magic self-justifying law or fact seems implausible at best if not downright impossible. Claims like “A happens because A happens” don’t satisfy any resonable notion of explanation. Hence the only option left is accepting that any thought system will inevitably rest on some kind of bedrock which is not justifiable. For our current science, that that bedrock could include axiomatic beliefs like

  • That the future will be like the past in certain important ways. (e.g: Gravity won’t just disappear next Tuesday.)
  • That our empirical observations about the universe are mostly true. (We’re not in a simulation being fed false imput)
  • That logic is true

Here’s a good general rule: Any system which claims it assumes nothing is lying or badly wrong.

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