In A New Cosmological Argument, Richard Gale and Alexander Pruss offer up a cosmological argument for a personal God, from the weak principle of sufficient reason (among other premises, but the WPSR is their unique contribution).

They argue for the existence of a "first explanation", a proposition that explains the actual world's Big Conjunctive Fact (BCF), the conjunction of all true propositions. They introduce the constant q to refer to this explanation, and in premise 8 claim that:

  1. q is either a personal explanation or q is a scientific explanation. Some sort of a conceptual truth

They justify it by saying:

What kind of a proposition is q? It is the burden of the remainder of our argument to flesh out q. We already know from 7 that q explains p. But just how does q explain p? The only sort of explanations that we can conceive of are personal and scientific explanations, in which a personal explanation explains why some proposition is true in terms of the intentional action of an agent and a scientific one in terms of some conjunction of law-like propositions, be they deterministic or only statistical, and one that reports a state of affairs at some time. There might be types of explanation that we cannot conceive of; but, in philosophy we ultimately must go with what we can make intelligible to ourselves after we have made our best effort.

Though the details of their argument are unique, it is this premise that interests me here. Gale and Pruss frame their cosmological argument in terms of explanation (not causation), but I am thinking that premise 8 might relate to the notions of agent causation and event causation (and some versions of the cosmological argument are indeed causal instead of explanatory).

I often see a similar premise in other cosmological arguments to argue for the personhood of such a first cause or explanation (for the sake of arguments about the existence of God, I take the defining qualities of a person to be that it possess an intellect and a will). This is the juicy bit of the cosmological argument in my opinion, since even atheists can (and sometimes do) say things like "sure, there might be a necessary first principle, cause, or something like that, but why think that this entity is God?" The partition of all possible explanations or causes into personal/agent-causal on the one hand, and scientific/event-causal on the other, followed by an argument that the first explanation/cause cannot be (i.e. is necessarily not) scientific or event-causal, makes the theist's reasoning explicit.

Is premise 8 justified? Are all conceivable explanations either personal or scientific? And are all conceivable instances of causation either agent-causation or event-causation? Or are there arguments that try to introduce a third type of explanation or causation?

  • The entire setup is murky as to what "explanations" are supposed to be, there are multiple competing theories of explanation. It is odd that only two types are admitted when already Aristotle had four. Is teleological explanation personal or scientific? No idea. One can "explain" whatever cause "personally" or "scientifically", so it is hard to see a link to agent causation as well. Basically, the premises are so vague that they are "not even wrong", as they say.
    – Conifold
    May 27, 2019 at 22:48
  • Maybe the authors only talk about the difference between cause and reason/justification. Like the light in a room goes on caused by the flicking of the light switch but for the reason of a person wanting to be able to see. As you can see, any event can have both causes and reasons, and likely multiple of each. However reasons are not causations. For causes, there also are typically chains, like a finger applying pressure on the switch causing it to flip, and the flip causing electricity to flow, and the electricity causing light. So reasons can become causes when there is agency.
    – tkruse
    May 29, 2019 at 23:50
  • @Conifold [1/2] I do doubt whether the premise in question is true, but I don't think it's vague (how to distinguish personal vs scientific explanations). Pruss is a libertarian, so for him an agent is a special type of entity capable of initiating a causal chain. I could see the authors saying something like: If the explanans just is the free intentional action of such an agent, it's a personal explanation. If the explanans is a system in some state, together with laws of how the system evolves (maybe probabilistically), up until the explanandum occurs/exists, it's a scientific explanation. May 31, 2019 at 21:10
  • @Conifold [2/2] The supposed division between personal and scientific explanation might not cut cleanly across the lines of Aristotle's division. Some teleological explanations might involve an agent performing an action towards some end/for some reason; others might be in terms of laws, like a seed will naturally becoming a tree, in conditions x,y,z unless frustrated by u,v,w. Personally I'm skeptical of teleologcal explanations, so another option is to just reject them outright (as a class of explanations; one might still believe in teleology in some other senses). May 31, 2019 at 21:10
  • If the explanation is just the efficient cause of an event I do not really see why they make a big point about switching from causes to explanations. And if they simply postulate that "causes" are either deterministic or agential (what of random chance, quantum uncertainty, etc.?) then that's their metaphysics. If we are accepting it then it's "true".
    – Conifold
    May 31, 2019 at 21:21

1 Answer 1


If there were just these two types, and they're not conceptual inverses of each other, then we wouldn't be able to explain the pair by appeal to just one of them + the template of inversion generally. So there must be some personal or scientific explanation as to why these are the only two kinds of explanations as such:

  1. (Neither) If the metatype that explains the types of explanations is neither personal nor scientific, the scheme falls to the ground.
  2. (Personal) But then we could collapse the scheme to personal + inversion, and the inversion scheme is the scientific one (per the role of logico-mathematical inversion in scientific compartmentalization/taxonomies).
  3. (Scientific) But again, this is the inversion scheme per se otherwise.
  4. (Both personal and scientific) If we have shown that a personal explanation of the distinction would be tantamount to a personal + scientific one, but that the scientific one is void, then the scheme seems to fall to the ground again.

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