On explaining existence real possibility as the key to actuality
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On Explaining Existence: Real possibility as the Key to Actuality. Nicholas Rescher , The Riddle of Existence, ( Landham , MD: University Press of America, 1984). Thesis. Why is there something rather than nothing at all?

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On explaining existence real possibility as the key to actuality

On Explaining Existence: Real possibility as the Key to Actuality

Nicholas Rescher, The Riddle of Existence, ( Landham, MD: University Press of America, 1984).

Thesis Actuality

  • Why is there something rather than nothing at all?

  • Why is there a world with things (existents) rather than en empty world?

  • Why is there a world with these particular things rather than other things?

The metaphysical question
The Metaphysical Question Actuality

  • The question “Why is there existence?” or “Why did the world come into existence?” or “How did the world come into existence?” are different than “Why is there existence rather than nothing?”

  • A second question is “Why this world rather than another?” addresses the character or nature of this world.

Possible responses
Possible Responses Actuality

  • I. Illegitimate: Rejectionism

  • II. Legitimate

    • 1. Unanswerable: Mystificationism

    • 2. Answerable

      • A. Brute Fact

      • B. Substantive or Theological Approach

      • C. Nomological Approach

      • D. Necessaterian Approach

        (The theories will be addressed in a different order)

1 mystificational approach
1) ActualityMystificational Approach

  • The question is unanswerable.

  • This position reaches this conclusion not because it infers it from the many attempted failures but because it argues that there is something intrinsically unanswerable about the question.

  • Methodological: we should always seek for rational explanations and causes of phenomena, and only as a last resort give up a search for such explanations.

2 arational approach brute fact
2) ActualityArational Approach (Brute Fact)

  • This view sees existence as having NO EXPLANATION.

  • It claims that the world simply is, and the things that exist exists because they do.

  • It is just a brute fact that they exist.

Bertrand russell
Bertrand Russell Actuality

  • To ask for the explanation or cause of the whole commits the fallacy of composition.

  • I know that each part has an explanation or cause therefore I infer that the whole must also have a cause or explanation. But this is false.

  • Every person has a mother who is responsible for his or her existence, but it does not follow that human race has a mother.

Reply Actuality

  • Russell’s argument only shows that the whole does not necessarily have the same kind of cause, but it does not show that we cannot demand a different type of cause of the whole just as strongly as we demand a cause of the particulars that compose the whole.

  • For instance, we can demand a different kind of cause of the existence of the human species (from evolutionary process) just as strongly as we can demand a cause or explanation of each particular human.

Hume Actuality

  • Hume argues that the cause of the whole is produced and given when the cause of each particular that composes the whole is provided.

  • For instance, if you ask me for the cause of a collection of things and I give you the cause of each particular thing in the collection, then it would be absurd to ask for a further cause of the whole.

  • Reply: An explanation of each team member does not necessarily provide the cause or explanation of the team. Each member is present because he or she was invited. Does that explain why the team is present as a whole?

Reply continued example
Reply Continued: Example Actuality

  • To explain why a species goes extinct (dies) cannot be provided by the explanation of the death of each particular member of the species.

  • The explanations at the distributive level and the explanations at the collective level are different.

Arational approach
Arational Actuality approach

  • This approach leaves things unanswered and insofar as it does it is similar to the mystification approach.

  • Based on methodological principle (and not the PSR) we should reject this approach.

3 theological approach
3) Theological Approach Actuality

  • The cosmological argument is the the most common way philosophers have of appealing to a supernatural being to explain the existence of things.

  • The question about God’s existence (Who or what created God) is avoided by describing God as a necessary being or a being whose existence is eternal.

  • However, appealing to supernatural causes to explain natural phenomena is not the sort of philosophical explanation we seek in this inquiry.

4 necessitarian approach
4) ActualityNecessitarian Approach

  • This view claims that the world’s contingent existence is not really contingent but necessary.

  • The sort of necessity needed here is the kind commonly ascribed to logical and mathematical claims, such as 2+2=4.

  • However, to attribute to what are contingent facts, such as the existence of particular beings (as they actually are), is to misrepresent the factual world and to confuse the contingent category with the logical category.

5 rejectionist approach
5) Rejectionist Approach Actuality

  • The question why is there something rather than nothing requires that we explain existence or the coming into being by appealing to a non-existent category of cause.

  • But something cannot come from nothing.

  • Therefore, it is impossible to answer this question.

Thesis of genetic homogeneity
Thesis of Genetic Homogeneity Actuality

  • Things must come from things.

  • But must things come from like things?

  • Modern science shows us that Matter can come from energy.

  • Living things from complexes of inorganic molecules.

  • Is it true that ONLY things can engender things?

  • Is it true that ONLY existent things can engender existent things?

Nomological approach
Nomological Actuality Approach

The Rejectionist Argument:

  • 1) Causal Principle: everything has a cause

  • 2) Principle of Totalization: The universe is a substance

  • A) The universe has a causal explanation (from 1 and 2).

  • 3) Principle of Genetic Homogeneity

  • 4) There is no thing outside the universe that could have caused the universe, for if it exists, then it is part of the universe, and if it does not exist, then it could not have been the cause of the universe’s existence.

  • B) No adequate causal explanation can be given for the universe’s existence.

Reject premise 3
Reject Premise 3 Actuality

  • Rescher argues that we can appeal to hylarchic or nomological principles as the causal explanation of the universe.

  • “…the existence of the world as constrained by lawful principles rather than produced by efficient cause.”

  • This view denies that the universe of existent beings must be derived or explained through another existent substance.

  • It introduces the view that perhaps certain Law that establish what is really possible can answer the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”.

Protolaws and metaphysical possibility
Protolaws Actuality and Metaphysical Possibility

  • How can we move from mere possibility to actuality.

  • Aristotle points out that the first cause must be actual since actuality cannot come from possibility.

  • Rescher will argue that Real Possibility can explain why there is something and why an empty worth does not exist.

From possibility to actuality
From Possibility to Actuality Actuality

  • Theoretical Possibility

  • Real Possibility

  • Physical Possibility

Real possibility
Real Possibility Actuality

  • The real world has a certain feature because it has to, since all “really” possible worlds do so.

  • Real possibility establishes the framework of laws (not physical) that constrain the kind of world that can exist.

  • The protolaws are the conditions FOR and not the conditions OF the existent things.

Argument Actuality

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?

  • 1) Possible worlds cannot represent real possibilities unless they have a certain feature F.

  • 2) No possible world which does not encompass existing things can have the feature F.

  • 3) Therefore, it must be the case that every R-possible world is nonempty.

Conclusion Actuality

  • The concept of real possibility entails the idea of a non-empty world and therefore existence can be explained by the conception of real possibility.

  • In other worlds, any world that is really possibly must be one that includes existence, therefore, a non-empty world is simply a real impossibility.

  • This explains why if there is a world it must be one with existent things; however, since no world at all is logically possible, I am not sure that it explains why there is no world at all!