Sometimes I see atheists vs. theists discussing the notion of a "brute fact", some proposing that nature as it is is a brute fact and others proposing that God is a better candidate for a brute fact then nature (see Swinburne "The Existence of God").

My question would be: how can we analyse this? How could we determinate what makes something to be a better candidate to be a brute fact or, even, if something could even be a candidate in the first place?

(Btw, feel free to use your own answer to justify, after it, your position regarding being God or nature or something else the best candidate for a brute fact, but notice that this is not the heart of the question neither the reason why I'm asking)


Brute fact is a close relative of uncaused cause, only the emphasis is on explanation rather than causation. Brute fact is a primary fact, one that need not be explained further, or on another reading self-explanatory. Uncaused cause is a prime cause, one that need not be caused itself, or self-causing if one prefers. If one thinks of explanation as building a chain of logical causations the difference disappears completely.

Therefore, declaring God or nature brute facts is effectively a statement of faith, or lack thereof. There is a long history of trying to justify the preference, the famous cosmological argument can be interpreted as an argument in favor of God being the "brute fact" or "uncaused cause". Swinburne starts his book by pointing out that such arguments are pointless because their premises are disputed. Even if we accept the principle of sufficient reason (and there is no sufficient reason for that) we still have a choice between infinite regress and first cause. Infinite regress was disliked by originators of Western philosophy like Aristotle, but there is no logical reason to reject existence of infinite causal chains, and hence eternal "nature". Then there is an insurmountable burden of identifying the first cause with God, even if nature is not eternal. In short, any judgement of what is a "better" brute fact will be based on person's emotional, social, cultural, philosophical, etc. preferences, and is purely subjective. People who like "closure" prefer God, people who like "diversity" prefer nature.

There was a similar dispute in philosophy of science about so-called analytic/synthetic distinction. It was about identifying "empirical facts" as opposed to "theoretical speculations", which could then serve as an undisputed foundation for science. It was on a much firmer logical ground, but still led nowhere, the distinction could not be made logically. The question of "final ground" for knowledge and explanations preoccupied philosophers for centuries and continues to do so. Hegel's Absolute Spirit, Husserl's pure consciousness, Heidegger's metaphysics of Dasein are the more recent entries to the list starting with God and nature. There are so many of them because there are no universally "better" ones.

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  • "and is purely subjective"—Can you defend this? I'm reminded of Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, in which he claims that the analytic/synthetic distinction was required to undergird the fact/value dichotomy. It seems like you might be attempting a subjective/objective dichotomy that likewise cannot be maintained. – labreuer Dec 11 '14 at 19:40
  • No, my opposite to subjective is intersubjective rather than objective. What I meant is that at this time there is no preference that will be rationally persuasive to people with different backgrounds. The use of "objectively" in the last paragraph was a poor choice of word (changed to "logically"). – Conifold Dec 12 '14 at 6:46
  • I still don't see how you can support your "and is purely subjective". Differing aesthetics can impact one's ability to do science: In Search of Beauty. Putnam talks about "epistemic values" in Collapse which are also required for doing science. And so, how to account for brute facts seems deeply related [at least] to paradigm shifting, which is, pace Kuhn, not an entirely irrational procedure. – labreuer Dec 12 '14 at 17:15

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