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Friday, May 28, 2021


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I wonder if it is reasonable to ask why something (some object or person)is a necessary as opposed to a contingent existent. Asking why a necessary being exists is nonsensical. But asking why a certain being is a necessary existent (as opposed to a contingent one)strikes me as sensible.

The natural answer would be something like, "Because that is what the nature of x is (ontologically)" or "That is just what we mean by x (semantically)". So the whatness seems to drive the modal isness. For example, God necessarily exists because of who He is. Numbers necessarily exist because of the kind of things they are. So perhaps nature grounds modality (at least in some cases). Or something else deeper lurks beneath the modal surface. Just some off-the-cuff thoughts.

Anyway, a good reminder on distinguishing between the frequently conflated concepts of the temporal and the modal.

Thanks for the comment. As for the first paragraph, yes, it is a reasonable question.

I agree with the second paragraph as well. The nature of a thing determines its modal status. A round square is impossible because its nature is contradictory. A golden mountain is possible because the properties constitutive of its nature are possibly co-instantiated.

God is the tough case. If God exists, then he necessarily exists; if God does not exist, then he is impossible. But which is it? Aquinas rejected the ontological argument of Anselm because our intellects cannot penetrate the divine nature. So the only way to know that God exists is by arguing a posteriori. The question then becomes: how do we know that God, as the cause of the existence of the world, is a necessary being in himself, and not just necessary FOR the existence of the contingent universe?

Suppose you can show that, necessarily, if U exists, then G exists. It does not follow straightaway that G necessarily exists. That would be to confuse the necessity of the consequence with the necessity of the consequent.

Objector: ‘You say that God is needed to explain the existence of the universe; but then what explains the existence of God?'

The objector is replying to the person who claims that the existence of the universe needs to be explained, and is rightly making the point that if the existence of any x needs to be explained, let’s suppose the existence of A, it is no good to say that the existence of B is the explanation. For by assumption, the existence of any x needs to be explained, and x includes B as well as A.

You reply that B is a necessary being. OK, so the initial premiss is now “the existence of any x that is not a necessary being needs to be explained”. But then why can't the Universe be a necessary being?


God is indeed a tough case. However, if God does exist necessarily, then that necessity is driven by his nature. If God is impossible, then that is because of something in the nature of reality that precludes the concept instantiating. What would that be? Surely, not the laws of physics. Logic? But what exactly is logic sans a mind to apprehend it? Are they something like Platonic Forms? But how would they preclude anything from existing? What, in any impotent mindless reality, keep contradictory things from instantiating?

I wonder if, in some ironic way, you can flip the impossibly of God arguments into a type of argument FOR God's existence. Impotent logical laws seem less of a candidate than an omnipotent God who's nature or thoughts are somehow identical to laws of logic (whatever those may be). I smell a transcendental argument for God's existence based on logic coming on! These are just some initial and untamed thoughts pouring through. No doubt some discipline is needed.

You say, "Suppose you can show that, necessarily, if U exists, then G exists. It does not follow straightaway that G necessarily exists."

But does it not follow straightforwardly?

Nec, If U exists, then G exists
Thus, If U exists, then G exists
U exists
Thus, G exists,
If G exists, then Nec G exists (Justification: God is not contingent. If he exists at all, then it is of necessity).

So, Nec, God exists. (This follows straightforwardly from Nec, U exists, then G exists, and the standard definition of God).

Am I missing something? Thanks


By "needs to be explained", I assume you mean in the metaphysical principle of sufficient reason (PSR)sense of the term, not in the epistemological sense of reason-based human constructed theories.

If the objector takes the former meaning, then they are either denying that the PSR applies to the universe (i.e., it is a brute contingent fact of some kind), or they would have to say that the Universe is a necessary existent.

The brute contingent fact option is hard to make sense of. It strikes me as a cop-out. Quantum theory does not save the day bye the way (more on that if you so desire the exchange).

The difficulty lies in that the Universe seems to exhibit standard physical properties like size, density, age, expansion rate, etc. And things that exhibit physical properties just are not the type of thing that enjoy necessary existence. Physical things just are the type of things that can fail to exists. Necessary existing things are generally abstract entities, or incorporeal in some sense, like God.

Ditto for the Multiverse (if it exists). It too would have physical properties like size, duration, number of universes in the Multiverse-set, etc. And these physical properties may be infinite ones. But as the original post intimates, infinity does not entail necessity. So one is hard-pressed, by my lights, to say the Universe is a necessary being.

So we are back to a necessary grounding of the Universe if it is merely a contingent being and (assuming you don't dig your heels in on denying the PSR-which strikes me as ad hoc). Of course, the nature of this necessary grounding is another question all together. But God is just as much of a plausible candidate (if not more so) as anything else.


which part of the universe? Given that no nature can entail necessary existence but on pain of vicious circularity necessary existence must entail the rest of the nature, it follows straight away that there can only be one kind of thing that is necessary.

So we see a multiplicity of existents would immediately violate the PSR at a fundamental level. Perhaps a universe described by Schaffers existential monism? Leaving aside that it likely prevents libertarian free will, the priority of the whole is by itself insufficient to make it necessary. Suppose we substract every part or property the whole is supposedly prior to. What are we left with? If the interlucor proposes that there is something, then we need an account of that. And furthermore it would be something distinct from the parts it's supposedly a whole of. We'd have something like the relation between the One and the Intellect in Plotinus. Or between God and the world in Spinoza.

If we're left with nothing, we have a mutual dependence. But already Avicenna argued that no composition of two parts could make up a necessary being, since then both parts would have to be logically prior and posterior at the same time to the other part, a contradiction.

We can also just apply a common sense understanding of existence. The universe isn't its own being, it has certain properties. But all those properties presuppose their existence, they can't themselves account for it.

So if we're conceiving for the sake of simplicity of ontology as layer cakes we have to conclude that at the absolute fundamental level must be existence and nothing else. And this is just what we understand to be God. And this also makes it perfectly clear why we can't penetrate its nature with our mind, since it's a limit case. Existence can only be understood in its own terms, but to even get a remote idea of what it is we must look at all the higher ontological levels which contain its effects.

I recommend O'Connor "Theism and Ultimate Explanation" pp. 86-92

J Jones: >>Nec, If U exists, then G exists
Thus, If U exists, then G exists
U exists
Thus, G exists,
If G exists, then Nec G exists (Justification: God is not contingent. If he exists at all, then it is of necessity).

So, Nec, God exists. (This follows straightforwardly from Nec, U exists, then G exists, and the standard definition of God).

Am I missing something? Thanks<<

The initial premise is a telescoped cosmological argument which, if sound, takes us from the contingent universe U to an entity G which functions as the metaphysical cause of U's existence. Note that for all this cosmological argument shows, G could be contingent or necessary. The final premise, however, asserts that if G exists, then G necessarily exists. Now if G = God, then G necessarily exists. But how do you know that G is God?

R.O. asks >>But then why can't the Universe be a necessary being?<<

If the universe is the totality of contingent beings, then the universe must itself be contingent.


Ok, that makes more sense. I assumed you were claiming that the consequent in "U exists then G exists" meant something like the Anselmian God. Then surely my argument would go through.

But a Leibnizian contingency-cosmological argument (as opposed to a Kalam-cosmological arguments) can get us a necessary being. Otherwise we are committed to something like an infinite regress of contingent beings or an acceptance of brute contingent existents, which thereby commits us to rejecting the PSR. However, I take your general point.

As I said in my response to Richard, even a necessary being "G"(a metaphysical "something"),is not obviously the Anselmian God. We need an auxiliary argument. Perhaps, a onto-cosmological type of argument would do the trick? Not sure.

My intuition is that there are no silver-bullet arguments that prove something as grandiose as God. Something like a worldview-cumulative approach is more appropriate. That is, can theism answer questions like the meaning of life, mind/body problem, intentionalality, normativity, design, something rather than nothing, fine-tuning, rationality/logic, etc., better than its rivals?

This worldview approach fuses both the theoretical and the practical; avoiding both our overly sterile analytic and our overly subjective anthropocentric tendencies.


I present an onto-cosmological argument in "From facts to God: An onto-cosmological argument," International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 48: 157-181, 2000.


Great! Thanks for the reference. I look forward to reading it.


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