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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

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Bill: Thanks for your beautiful summary, analysis, and critique. Section 3, especially, helps distil the issues between us. You ask, "Why are there any CCBs at all?" Suppose I respond, "There are cats, and cats are CCBs, so if I explain why there are cats I've explained why there are CCBs." Your rejoinder, I presume, would be "No. Explaining why there are cats doesn't explain why there are any CCBs at all, any CCBs in the first place. And don't try explaining why there are dogs, because that doesn't address my question either."

You wrote, "If Maitzen is telling us that CCBs are not a sort of thing distinct from ordinary sorts, then he is right, and I agree." Excellent. Maybe the problem is that we disagree about how "existence explanations" must work. If you ask me why there are any cats, I have a chance of giving you a correct explanation. But if you ask me, "Why are there any cats-or-dogs?" all I can do is try to explain why there are any cats and why there are any dogs. If you object, "That wouldn't answer my question, which is a more general question than either of those partial explanations could answer," then of course I'm at a loss. I think the modified Leibnizian questioner is making the mistake that you would make if you rejected my cat-explanation and my dog-explanation as answers to your heterogeneous cats-or-dogs question: the mistake of treating cat-or-dog as a kind (or sort) of thing whose existence deserves its own explanation. As you and I agree, 'CCB' doesn't name a kind of thing; it's at most a heterogeneous covering term like 'cat-or-dog'. A fortiori, 'CCB' doesn't name a kind of thing whose existence deserves its own explanation. But it's just such an explanation that the modified Leibnizian questioner seems to demand.

Hi Bill and Steve,

I'd like to propose the following toward a clarification of the problem. If I am repeating what anyone has already said on another thread, forgive me, but it seems to me that Steve's questions suggest he hasn't considered this.

The modified Leibnizian question does not ask for an explanation of a kind so much as it asks for an explanation of some aspect of the existence of ordinary particulars of some kind or other, such as cats (the favorite example of this blog). And an explanation of the existence of particulars of some kind or other may not suffice as an answer to this Leibnizian question.

For example, explaining the existence of cats by reference to some process of evolution does not explain all aspects of their existence, because it leaves the contingency of their existence untouched; this is obvious because the evolutionary process which brought about cats is itself contingent, having taken place as it did because of the interactions of contingent beings.

The modified Leibnizian question does not ask for an explanation of the existence of some particular kind of beings -- contingent beings -- but rather asks for an explanation of some undeniable and real aspect of the existence of beings with which we are familiar, regardless of their kind.

Steven,

Excellent comment. >>The modified Leibnizian question does not ask for an explanation of a kind so much as it asks for an explanation of some aspect of the existence of ordinary particulars of some kind or other . . .<< That's exactly the right way to put it. This is a point that I hadn't made yet in my discussion with Dr Maitzen but which eventually would have to be made to make my/our position clear.

This is where the modified Leibniz question connects with questions about the nature of existence. It may well be that Maitzen accepts some version of the thin theory and that this why he thinks he can collapse the modified Leibniz question into a question or questions resolvable by natural science.

I expect that further discussion with Maitzen would lead to diagreement about what existence is.

I agree completely with your last paragraph. I don't believe anyone ever thought of CCBs as a separate sort or kind distinct from ordinary sorts. So that's a bit of a straw man. The term 'CCB' targets the existence of the instances of ordinary sorts in its aspect as contingent.

Our basic view (if I may speak for both of us) is that explanation in terms of empirical causation will never amount to an explanation of the very existence of the items that stand in empirical-causal relations so that, IF there is an explanation of the existence of these items, then the Cause or Ground cannot be a 'horizontal' cause among empirical causes, but must operate 'vertically' from outside the empirical-causal nexus.

If there is no such 'vertical' Ground, then the existence of the universe (the totality of CCBs) is just a brute fact as old Russell once said. Ground or no Ground, the modified Leibniz question is a genuine question that cannot be replaced by any naturalistically tractable question or questions.

Steve M,

I concede that I haven't adequately explained why the modified Leibnizian question doesn't collapse into one or more naturalistically tractable questions. That should be undertaken in a seperate post and will require getting into the nature of existence and the nature of causation.

For now a brief comment. We agree that 'CCB' doesn't name a kind of thing. But it doesn't follow straightaway that it is a mere heterogeneous covering term like 'cat-or-dog.' After all, it seems clear that one could not specify the meaning (sense) of 'CCB' by means of a long disjunction of terms for the sorts instantiated in the actual world, e.g. x is a CCB =df x is a or a dog or a pen or a plum, etc. For there are other possible worlds in which there are CCBs but no cats or dogs or pens or plums, etc.

Suppose I stipulate that 'cog' shall refer to any animal that is either a cat or a dog. I could do that. I could also stipulate that 'sog' shall refer to any instance of a sort instantiated in the actual world. It seems clear that 'sog' and 'CCB' do not have the same sense. But they would have the same sense if 'CCB' were a mere covering term as you suggest. I conclude that 'CCB' is not a mere covering term.

There is also the point that Steven makes above which is the crux of the matter. On that, later.

By the way, be sure to check out Peter's long comment in the earlier thread.

Hang on a minute!

Steven wrote -- and Bill surprisingly endorsed -- the following: "The modified Leibnizian question does not ask for an explanation of a kind so much as it asks for an explanation of some aspect of the existence of ordinary particulars of some kind or other.... For example, explaining the existence of cats by reference to some process of evolution does not explain all aspects of their existence, because it leaves the contingency of their existence untouched."

Are you guys telling me that the modified Leibnizian question is something like (a) "Why are cats contingent?" or perhaps the more general (b) "Why are CCBs contingent?" Now, (a) is strange ("Why aren't cats necessary beings?"), like something a confused cat-lover might wonder, and (b) is well-nigh senseless. Please tell me I'm misunderstanding you, and please set me straight about your position.

Steve,

I think the points you make in this most recent comment are mistaken.

The modified Leibnizian question proposes the contingent existence -- the existing-but-not-having-to-exist -- of some concrete particulars as a philosophical problem to be explained. This is what I meant when I said that the modified Leibnizian question seeks an explanation of some aspect of the existence of concrete particulars of this kind or other: it is their existing despite not having to, this aspect.

The question, as well as the questions you give as examples, is not senseless as you say; they are all perfectly intelligible, though I think you have a confused understanding (or perhaps none at all) of their sense. Cats exist contingently because they were brought about contingently by something else capable of producing effects contingently, e.g. the evolutionary process that actually took place; they don't exist necessarily because they cannot explain their own existence, neither does anything necessarily cause them to exist. Contingent concrete beings, i.e. concrete beings that exist but do not have to exist, exist contingently because ultimately they are brought about by something that does not exist contingently (otherwise it would be a part of their number) but is capable of producing effects contingently; they do not exist necessarily because they cannot explain their own existence, neither does anything necessarily cause them to exist. This is the Leibnizian answer to the Leibnizian question.

Steve,

No one asks why cats are contingent beings rather than necessary beings. (One could of course reasonably ask what it means to say of a cat that it is a contingent being.)

And of course 'Why are CCBs contingent?' is a pointless question since CCBs are defined as contingent.

What wants explaining is not the contingency of what contingently exist, but the existence of what contingently exists. Now apparently, you think that this can be explained by empirical causation.

I deny that. But this requires a separate post.

Steven: Look, I quoted your own words, which turn out to have been misleading. Despite what you wrote, it turns out you weren't in fact asking "for an explanation of some aspect of the existence" of cats (etc.); instead, you were asking why cats (etc.) exist even though they needn't have existed. But that's utterly familiar territory; it's where my objection starts. So your comment doesn't advance the discussion at all, which is why I remain surprised that Bill endorsed it (twice). But at least it doesn't take the discussion sideways, as it would have had you meant what you wrote.

Bill: See immediately above. The language Steven in fact used ("some aspect of the existence") implies that it's the contingency itself whose explanation is being sought. Somehow you've brought us back to the starting move: the Leibnizian questioner asking for an explanation of "the existence of what contingently exists" (your words). I've already addressed that move, at great length now.

Bill, Dr. Maitzen, Steven,

Let me try to make some sense of what I take to be Steven's and Bill's point, on the one hand, and Dr. Maitzen response, on the other.

Steven says:

"The modified Leibnizian question does not ask for an explanation of a kind so much as it asks for an explanation of some aspect of the existence of ordinary particulars of some kind or other, such as cats (the favorite example of this blog)."

And what aspect of the existence of ordinary particulars exactly needs explaining? I suppose the answer is: their contingent existence. And what kind of property of cats is their contingent existence? I suppose we can say that the property in question is a complex property such as: cats have the property of existing-even-though-they-might-not-have-existed. Notice the modal character of this property.

The dispute seems to me as follows.

Dr. Maitzen thinks (I take it) that an adequate scientific explanation of the process that caused cats to exist also provides an adequate explanation for why cats have the modal property of existing-even-though-they-might-not-have-existed.

Steven and Bill think that the two questions: i.e., 'Why cats have the property of existing' and 'Why cats have the property of existing-even-though-they-might-not-have-existed?' are so fundamentally different that an adequate explanation for the former cannot be an adequate explanation for the later.

We can restate the point in terms of possible worlds. To say that cats exist-contingently is to say (roughly) that they have the complex modal property of existing in the actual world while not existing in some other possible worlds.

Steven and Bill want an explanation why cats have this moral property. Dr. Maitzen thinks that an explanation of the non-modal 'cats exist' suffices to explain their modal property as well.

(I wonder how illuminating my proposal is?)

Peter,

That's not my view. I'll try to explain it in a separate post.

Peter: Nor is that how I'd respond to it if it were Bill's view.

Bill: "That's not my view."
Dr. Maitzen: "Nor is that how I'd respond to it if it were Bill's view."

Interesting!

So perhaps someone could enlighten me first as to what Steven meant when he said that what needs to be explained is an aspect of contingent existents such as cats and that the ordinary evolutionary explanation (which explains I presume why cats exist) would not suffice to explain this aspect.

And, second, isn't the term contingent a modal property? And if it is, then isn't it the case that if something has this property and it exists, then it then has the complex property of existing-even-though-it-might-not-have-existed.

And, thirdly, Steven said:

"The modified Leibnizian question proposes the contingent existence -- the existing-but-not-having-to-exist -- of some concrete particulars as a philosophical problem to be explained. This is what I meant when I said that the modified Leibnizian question seeks an explanation of some aspect of the existence of concrete particulars of this kind or other: it is their existing despite not having to, this aspect."

So perhaps someone could explain to me how is my interpretation of what Steven said, with which Bill apparently concurred, is different than what Steven says in the above quote. In particular, perhaps someone can explain how the following two properties are different:

Steven: "the existing-but-not-having-to-exist"
Peter: "existing even-though-it-might-not-have-existed"

Steven says about his property that it is this property of ordinary particulars which needs to be explained. I say the same about what he said. How is what I say different than what he says?

As for Dr. Maitzen reply quoted above. Well, see his reply to Steven and Bill posted above: Friday, June 08, 2012 at 04:27 AM.


I was a bit too eager to agree with Steven above since what he said, as it stands, is open to misunderstanding.

I said: "The term 'CCB' targets the existence of the instances of ordinary sorts in their aspect as contingent."

I have a new post up and I would like to see if Steven N. agrees with it. I suspect he will. I suspect Steve M. will not agree. And I suspect Peter will neither agree not not agree, but ask questions.

Ain't philosophy grand?

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