I was invited to attend a workshop on Bradley's Regress at the University of Geneva this December. Francesco Orilia will also be in attendance. He and I corresponded about Bradley and facts four or so years ago. He has read some of my work and I have read some of his. This series of posts is a new attempt at understanding his position and differentiating it from mine. It is based on his "States of Affairs: Bradley vs. Meinong" in Venanzio Raspa, ed., Meinongian Issues in Contemporary Italian Philosophy, Ontos Verlag, 2006, pp. 213-238.
1. The Problem in a First Rough Formulation
A fact or state of affairs (STOA) is a contingent unity of certain ontological constituents, for example, a (thin) particular and a universal. It is this unity that is responsible for a fact's being a truth-maker, as opposed to a mere collection of entities. Obviously, it is Al’s being fat, rather than the mere collection of Al and fatness, that makes true the proposition that Al is fat. We take as given the difference between a fact and its constituents, between a's being F, on the one hand, and the set or sum consisting of a and F-ness, on the other. The difference is clear if one notes that, for example, Al and fatness can exist without it being the case that Al is fat. (The converse of course does not hold.) There is more to Al's being fat than Al and fatness. The problem is to give an account of this 'more.' What is it that makes a fact more than its constituents?
I have given a 'monadic' example but the problem also arises for relational facts. Suppose a stands in R to b. The contingent proposition Rab is made true by the fact of a's standing in R to b. But what distinguishes this relational fact from the set or sum of its constituents? Since the constituents can exist without the fact existing, the fact is more than its constituents.
One disputed question is whether or not the unity or togetherness expressed by ‘being’ in ‘Al’s being fat’ requires an explanation. If it does, then we must introduce a unifier, either internal to the STOA, identical to the STOA, or external to the STOA. If the unity of a STOA’s constituents does not require an explanation, then I say the unity is a ‘brute fact’: there is unity, but no unifier, no ontological ground of unity. I reject the brute fact approach. Orilia rejects my rejection, and this despite his favoring of fact infinitism (to be explained) over the brute fact approach. (NOTA BENE: To say that the unity of a fact’s constituents is a brute fact is not to say that the fact which results from their unity is a brute fact. The fact of a’s being F may well have a causal explanation: Al is fat because he eats too much, and exercises too little. But this question about the empirical cause or causes of a fact assumed to exist is different from the ontological question whether the unity of a fact’s constituents requires an ontological ground. Talk of a unifier is talk of an ontological ground of unity.)
Bradley's Regress comes into the picture when it is admitted that the unity of a fact requires an ontological explanation. The datum from which we start is that there is more to the fact Fa than a + F-ness. Again, this is because a, F-ness can exist without the fact existing. Intuitively, then, something is needed to connect a to F-ness. Suppose you say that the dyadic relation or quasi-relation exemplification EX is the link, glue, cement, or connector that transforms entities that cannot on their own serve as truth-makers into an entity that can serve as a truth-maker. Suppose further that you view EX as a further constituent of the fact. Then the problem arises all over again: what grounds the difference between the collection of a, F-ness, EX -- which collection cannot serve as a truth-maker -- and the fact of a's being F, which can serve as a truth-maker? If you say that a fourth constituent, a triadic exemplification relation EX* is needed to secure the unity of a, F-ness, and EX, then again the problem arises as to what unifies these four elements. It is easy to see that a regress ensues and that it is infinite.
We will have to consider whether this infinite regress is vicious since some infinite regresses, if not exactly virtuous, are at least benign. We will also have to consider whether the regress, whether vicious or benign, is internal to facts or external to them.
If the regress is both vicious and internal, then the existence of facts is in question. So one way to formulate the problem that is exercising Orilia and me is like this: We need facts because we need truth-makers; but how are facts possible in the teeth of Bradley's Regress? Orilia and I both reject the 'Brute Fact Approach' according to which the unity of a fact is in no need of ontological explanation. But we differ in the explanations we offer.
The above rough introduction to the problem may gain in clarity if I list some of the assumptions I am making, assumptions most of which Orilia shares. There can be no question of explaining let alone defending these assumptions on the present occasion. I may not need all of them. They are not necessarily in the best order. Some are logically dependent on others.
A1. Some but not all truths (true propositions) require truth-makers.
A2. There are truth-makers.
A3. Truth-makers are facts or states of affairs, and not tropes, say.
A4. There are (Fregean) propositions.
A5. Propositions are abstract objects, either true or false.
A6. Facts (STOAs) are concrete objects, neither true nor false.
A7. There are false propositions, but no nonexistent (nonobtaining) facts. Every fact exists.
A8. Facts are not ontological simples, but complexes: they have ontological 'parts' or constituents. These are not to be confused with spatial, temporal, or material parts.
A9. A fact is a whole of parts but not in the sense of mereology: the existence of certain 'fact-friendly' constituents does not entail the existence of a corresponding fact.
A10. Propositions are necessary beings: there are all the propositions there might have been.
A11. Facts, as the truth-makers of contingent truths, are contingent beings: there are not all the facts there might have been.
A12. Facts, as the truth-makers of true propositions, are not propositions. They are extra-propositional.
A13. Facts, though they are not propositions, are proposition-like: they have a structure that is mirrored in the structure of the propositions they make true.
A14. Making-true is not a causal relation.
A15. There is a truth-regress and it is benign: p, it is true that p, it is true that it is true that p, etc. ad infinitum.
A16. There are thin particulars.
A17. Properties are universals.
A18. Not all explanations are empirical-causal; there are ontological explanations.