Are infinite explanations self-explanatory?

Erkenntnis 88 (5):1935-1954 (2021)
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Consider an infinite series whose items are each explained by their immediate successor. Does such an infinite explanation explain the whole series or does it leave something to be explained? Hume arguably claimed that it does fully explain the whole series. Leibniz, however, designed a very telling objection against this claim, an objection involving an infinite series of book copies. In this paper, I argue that the Humean claim can, in certain cases, be saved from the Leibnizian “infinite book copies” objection, and that this provides an interesting way to defuse some cosmological arguments for the existence of God and to give a non-theistic but complete explanation of the Universe. In the course of my argumentation, I also show that circular explanations can be “self-explanatory” as well: explaining two items by each other can explain the couple of items tout court.

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Alexandre Billon
Université de Lille


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