Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association


published on November 11, 2023

Daniel Shields

Infinite Regress and the Hume-Edwards-Ockham Objection:
A Thomistic Analysis

One of the standard objections against the impossibility of infinite regress is associated with David Hume and Paul Edwards, but originates with William Ockham. They claim that in an infinite regress every member of the series is explained, and nothing is unexplained. Every member is explained by the one before it, and the series as a whole is nothing over and above its members, and so needs no cause of its own. Utilizing the well-known Thomistic distinction between essentially ordered and accidentally ordered causal series, I show that the Hume-Edwards-Ockham objection fails to touch Aquinas’s argument against the impossibility of infinite regress in an essentially ordered series. However, Aquinas also argues that accidentally ordered causal series can only regress infinitely if supported by an everlasting essential cause. The Hume-Edwards-Ockham objection does raise a question about this thesis, but I show how St. Thomas can reply to it convincingly.

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