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Sunday, February 28, 2021


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How about this: mere possibilities are an expression of the contingency of all being in this world. That is, as we become aware of an actual being in the world, we are simultaneously aware of the possibilities that it could have been different. The ontological status of these possibilities is as real as the actual being, but as a sort of negative of the positive of the actual being. In essence, it is the real but not actual being of the alternate possibilities that qualifies actual being as both actual and contingent.

If mere possibilities were not real in an ontological sense, then no actual being would be contingent - they would all be necessary. But the only necessary being is God; so therefore all actual beings in this world are contingent. And if contingency means anything, it must mean that there are real alternative possibilities to every actual being in the world.

>>In essence, it is the real but not actual being of the alternate possibilities that qualifies actual being as both actual and contingent.<<

Yes, though I would strike the second occurrence of 'actual.' Necessary beings are actual, but being necessary there is no possibility of their nonexistence.

And yes, if there were no real mere possibilities, nothing that exists would be really contingent.

>>But the only necessary being is God . . .<< Here is an argument for necessary beings other than God.

It is necessarily true that 7 + 5 = 12. If there are necessarily true propositions, and if a proposition cannot be true unless it is or exists, then (some) propositions are necessary beings; so God cannot be the only necessary being.

Thank you for your input! Is that argument in the neighborhood of what Bob Hale is saying in Necessary Beings? I bought that book b/c of the title, and have slogged my way through a little bit of it. But, for what it's worth, I am coming from that little riff by Kierkegaard in the middle of Philosophical Fragments, supplemented by the Postscript. So, to your points from last to first.

The argument for necessary beings: it seems to me that 'exists' is an equivocation. My sense is that if existence means anything at all, it has to be in some way 'stamped' with a time and space index. My house exists; that means I can assign both a current date and time that I verified that statement. And also that I can in principle establish a date and time that it has existed in the past - in this case, documented evidence that my house was in the world in 1785.

Exists in your argument seems to mean little more than 'it is,' and seems superfluous. In this context, a better description of the phenomena of a true mathematical statement might be "It is, but it does not exist in space and time." This way of putting it also serves to highlight rather than obscure the nature of the problem of mathematical (and other) truths that philosophers have grappled with for these many centuries.

That the only necessary being is God, for me, is on the same level of the Unmoved Mover in Aristotelian philosophy. Neither the being of God nor the Unmoved Mover are capable of being considered existent in the same sense as everything else, and are more markers of a conceptual halt in the argument that do not really tell us much about the nature of either - except that they are not existent.

Now, to your first point: at a minimum, it seems to me that to be actual something must be an existent, whatever else it is. And if an actuality is existent, then it is not necessary, because the necessary simply is and not existent (see above). And if the actual is not necessary, then it is contingent - ie, there is no logical reason why it could not have been different than it is in actuality.

And this gets me around to my original answer to your question. If everything in actuality is contingent, then mere possibilities must be real or else everything in actuality would be necessary. In essence, as I attempted to say originally, the reality of mere possibilities is what makes something contingent and therefore actual.

Briefly, then, I am arguing that actualities and mere possibilities both share the same or similar ontological status, with the exception that mere possibilities did not and do not exist.

In this context, I don't believe it is coincidental that in practice, the reality of both mere possibilities and actualities are verified in the same general manner: we incorporate sensory data or possible sensory data combined with scientific, metaphysical, and logical principles of non-contradiction, etc., to assess whether something was really actual and also to determine whether a mere possibility was possible or impossible. In this process, we (hopefully) conclude that the actuality was real, and that the mere possibilities might have been real as well, and assign them both ontological reality - either as actually real in the world or as a real possibility in the world.

I am not sure of the customs of your blog, and fear that I have gone on too long in the comment space. But you have kicked some creaky old philosophical gears into action and I couldn't help myself, and for that I thank you.

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