Infinite Regress


The argument proposes an explanation, but the mechanism proposed stands just as much in need of explanation as the original fact to be explained--and indeed it stands in need of the same kind of explanation.



Such explanations are sometimes called "skyhooks." The image comes from a problem in engineering: to hold something up we must have something to attach it to. The building of bridges (for example) would be much easier if, instead of using cranes, we could simply attach our hooks and cables directly to the sky.



"The world is supported by four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle, which is standing on the back of another giant turtle, which is standing on the back of another giant turtle..."


Eggs exist because they are laid by chickens; and, of course, chickens are hatched from eggs."



Explanations are generally offered in a context in which most of the mechanisms involved in the explanation are taken for granted. No further explanation is needed because the mechanism is familiar in other contexts or is otherwise thought to be satisfactorily understood. Hence we form the habit of accepting explanations without much further examination. The fallacy of Infinite Regress occurs when this habit lulls us into accepting an explanation that turns out to be itterative, that is, the mechanism involved depends upon itself for its own explanation.


Source: Aristotle refers to the impossibility of an infinite regress in his proof of the unmoving mover (Physics, 8.1). Prior to that Zeno of Elia used the notion that an infinite regress is an absurdity in the development of his famous paradoxes.


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