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Tuesday, May 17, 2016


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Just wondering out loud. I don’t think DBH is unaware or denies the distinction between what you’re calling modal and dependent contingency. I’m no authority on his work or even philosophy in general, but I believe his point is that modally contingent entities (those that exist) ultimately depend for their existence upon some modally necessary cause. So Russell and others are wrong to say the world is modally contingent but not dependent for its existence upon anything. It might not be immediately obvious that this is so and some argument might be needed to clarify the point that things which exist and are modally contingent are by definition also dependently contingent. I think Hart over-all is offering that argument.

I suppose the question has to do with the meaning of the options:

Whatever exists is either modally contingent or modally necessary AND either dependently contingent or not-dependently contingent, for want of a good positive term of this). Imagining a square divided into four quadrants:

(1) Modally necessary and not-dependently contingent (God),
(2) Modally necessary and dependently contingent (arguably the Son and Spirit if one construes Father as source and the hypostatic identities of Son and Spirit as ‘dependent upon’ the Father),
(3) Modally contingent and not-dependently contingent (what Russell and many think the material cosmos is), and then
(4) Modally contingent and dependently contingent (where classical theists place all non-divine entities).

(Reminds me a bit of Hartshorne's modal argument.)

DBH would argue, I think, that (3) is (necessarily) empty. There can be no modally contingent existing entities whose existence as such is not dependent upon anything.


Good analysis, Tom.

I am going only by Kimel's gloss and Hart's words as quoted. On the basis of that I seemed to detect an illicit slide from the modal to the other sense of 'contingent' and I thought it important to point that out.

Hart is quoted by Kimel as saying, " Or, more tersely, the contingent is always contingent on something else. This is not a difficult or rationally problematic proposition."

Note that *The dependently contingent is always contingent on something else* is analytically true and thus uninteresting while *The modally contingent is always contingent on something else* is not obvious and in need of proof. Its negation is certainly not a contradiction either formally or analytically. So the second proposition IS rationally problematic contrary to what Hart asseverates.

>>There can be no modally contingent existing entities whose existence as such is not dependent upon anything.<< That of course is what people like Hart want to say. Me too! But I argue for it in my existence book.

Your (3) need reformulation. Note the placement of the hyphen. But I know what you mean.

Yes, I meant the hyphen on (3) to be an operator negating modal dependence in its entirety. Thanks!

Regarding Russell’s view of the cosmos as (in terms of your descriptions) both ‘modally conditional’ and ‘not dependently conditional’: if something which exists is ‘modally contingent’, then as you say it might fail to exist (i.e., it might pass out of existence). But if it’s ‘not dependently contingent’, its existing doesn’t depend on any condition. And if its existence doesn’t depend on any condition, there can be no condition in or upon which it might fail to exist (since it’s ‘not conditionally existent’). But then how is it the case that it might fail to exist (as must be the case given its modal contingency)? How does one conceive of the passing into non-existence of that which depends upon nothing for its existence? So ‘modal contingency’ and ‘non dependent contingency’ appear to be contradictory modes of being. No?

But I see your point. This isn't obviously the case. It has to be argued. Would you think what I've just said (i.e., making explicit contradictory possibilities intrinsic to 'model contingency' and 'non dependent contingency' as grounds for their incompatibility--contra Russell)?

Is it correct to speak of this distinction between modal and dependent contingency as "logical" and "metaphysical" contingency, respectively? On the modal or logical side, it seems to me that impossible/possible/necessary are being treated as though they were species of a common genus called "being" or "existence."

But this cannot be the case for what is impossible/possible/necessary in the realm of dependent or metaphysical contingency, since we know that existence (that is, real-deal existence--not the first or second-level property it is often purported to be) can only be differentiated modally. In short, contingent being is a modus essendi.

If this is all right, I wonder if this disparity, namely, the disparity between the two different meanings of impossible/possible/necessary [i.e. (1) as species and (2) as modes] might have something to do with the problem of "bridging the gap" between logical and metaphysical contingency.

>>then as you say it might fail to exist (i.e., it might pass out of existence).<<

That is your gloss, Tom. Suppose the universe always existed and always will exist. It is still modally contingent: it might never have existed. It has no cause of its existing and it has no cause of its ceasing to exist -- since it never ceases to exist.

But even if U did cease to exist, why would it need a cause of its ceasing to exist?

I'm tagging Fr Aidan at the ropes and he'll be stepping in for me...

I don't know how to suppose it. I confess, I have no idea what it means to say of the world: "It always has existed, always will exist, depends upon nothing for its existence, but it exists contingently (in the modal sense)." But this may be due entirely to my own ignorance of the philosophical subtleties. I don't know.


Certainly something new for me to consider. Thank you!



You have no idea? I find that hard to believe. I myself have no trouble conceiving of (entertaining the thought of) a material universe that always existed and always will but whose existence is not metaphysically necessary. You are in effect telling me that you do not understand what it means to say that the universe exists as a matter of brute fact.

A brute fact is a fact that obtains, obtains contingently (in the modal sense defined above), but has no explanation of its obtaining.

Are you saying that a brute fact universe is like a round square or a married bachelor or a polite New Yorker? (The last example a joke obviously. I was thinking of Trump and Brian Leiter.)


As a matter of curiosity, would you hazard a guess as to how your arguments square with Ed Feser's take on contingency? Lacking that, it would be interesting to have him comment.

Just wishing.


Do you have a text by Feser in mind, Richard?


No, I don't, and that indicates to me that I don't know enough to pose a pertinent question, so I withdraw my request.

As a theist, I am disappointed that the argument for God from contingency is so problematic. I know of Russell's brute fact argument but that seems to me to be a confession of ignorance: I don't know why it's there--it just is. If this is a valid summation of the brute fact position, it may be the best we can do, but is not very satisfying. I certainly don't see how it excludes the existence of God. But it may simply be impossible to do better, philosophically.

If this seems clumsy, apologies, but it is not my good fortune to be philosophically trained. At least I can claim that I have plenty of that love of sophia that is the soul of the way.

Thanks for answering my query.



There are different arguments from the contingency of the world. Some are better than others.

Russell is not claiming that we don't know what the explanation of the universe's existence is; for that presupposes that is has an explanation. He is claiming that it has no explanation. It just exists and that is all.

Bill, I’m still pondering this and that.

Let me ask this question: Can it be the case that what exists (metaphysically) contingently can exist without sustaining any relation whatsoever to that which exists (metaphysically) necessarily? How would the answer impinge on the supposition that the world is an instance of the former but with no explanatory relation to anything outside itself?

It would seem to me that necessary existence is, necessarily, related to whatever exists contingently and that the relationship has some explanatory value? (I don’t have the chops to unpack it.)

Did Russell deny necessary truths? I don’t think so. But if he held the world to be (going with your terms) modally contingent, then the world isn't modally necessary in which case the world can’t ground or explain necessary truths—though it obviously bears some relation to necessary truths since it instantiates and embodies such truths (the contingent world which you and I are are able through contingent means to discern necessary truths). But if there is no modally necessary existing reality that grounds or explains necessary truths, then necessary truths are, as he held the world to be, brute facts with no explanation whatsoever.

This leaves me wondering: Just how would he (or you) establish the essential difference between modally necessary brute facts and modally contingent brute facts? We can repeat the definition of each (true in all possible worlds or true in only some possible worlds). I'm asking a different question, namely, what KIND of thing must a thing be to exist (or be true) in all possible worlds? Conversely, what kind of things must a thing be to exist (or be true) in only some possible worlds? It seems to me that without some understanding of this kind-difference (what MAKES it the case that a thing exists necessarily), the very distinction between necessary vs contingent brute facts is arbitrary. WHY think the world is modally contingent and not dependently contingent? Why not posit the modal necessity of the world? Surely some notion of what constitutes necessary existence vs contingent existence is at work in concluding the world is continent and not necessary. But, to belabor the point, it seems to me that once we start asking what kind of existence is necessary existence (or contingent existence) we’re essentially talking about explanations.


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