September 23, 2010

A Non-Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

In my last Sobel post, I reconstructed the cosmological argument Sobel attributes to Leibniz in such a way that there was no obvious contradiction in the premises by using Leibniz's own resources. Here I want to try to produce an argument with more widely accepted premises. Recall that Sobel's reconstruction is as follows:

(1)The World - the Cosmos - exists. (2) The World is contingent, it is a contingent entity. (3) For everything that exists - for every fact and every existent entity - there is a sufficient reason for its existence. (4) The sufficient reason for the existence of any contingent entity runs in the end in terms of an existent being. :. (5) There exists an ultimate reason for the World, which reason is itself a necessary being. (p. 208)

This argument can be defended just by excising facts from premise (3) and from our interpretation of 'The World'. Now, once we've excised the facts, applying our principle only to existence claims might seem objectionably ad hoc. We could expand it by saying that for every event that occurs, there is a sufficient reason why it occurs and, furthermore, a reason why it occurs now rather than some other time and in this way rather than in some other way. Following Sobel's reading of Leibniz, we will take a sufficient reason to be a necessitating reason: so, for every event, something necessitates the exact way and exact time it occurs.

Once we have done this, if we can make sense of a notion of necessitation other than (1) event causation, and (2) logical entailment (the most relevant such notion is agent causation), the premises will not contradict one another. We now add the premise that every beginning of existence is an event in the relevant sense, and the argument is again valid. Here's how it would go:

  1. The World - the sum of all contingent events - happens.

  2. Any sum of contingent events is itself a contingent event.

  3. Every event has a sufficient reason.

  4. The sufficient reason for any contingent event must ultimately run to a non-event.

  5. Therefore,
  6. There is (exists) some non-event NE, which is the ultimate sufficient reason of The World.

  7. Every beginning of existence is an event.

  8. Nothing can be the sufficient reason for the beginning of its own existence.

  9. Therefore, NE did not contingently begin to exist.

Now, this leaves completely open the question of what NE is. NE might be an agent, if agent causation is coherent. I suppose NE might also be a brute contingent fact, but it seems to me that facts need to depend on substances and events, and not vice versa. Perhaps we can simply insert into premise (4) that the sufficient reason needs to run to an agent. I think that if we do this, our premises will still be more widely accepted than the premises of the Leibnizian version of the argument.

The other question that is left open is whether NE had a necessary beginning of existence, or had no beginning of existence. Either of these is compatible with NE's going out of existence, so we don't get a necessary being from this argument. Nevertheless, there is one rather obvious position one can take which will accommodate the conclusion of the argument in a way that makes for a more or less coherent picture of the world: NE is God, a necessary being, and is an agent cause.

Sobel addresses this kind of approach briefly in two places: 573-574n24, and 228-229. However, all he does is to very briefly rehearse general problems with metaphysical libertarianism/agent causation. These are problems, all right, but there are many philosophers who do not consider this position to have been decisively refuted, so an argument which takes the coherence of this position as a premise cannot necessarily, just for that reason, be dismissed.

Posted by Kenny at September 23, 2010 7:35 PM
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