Alexander R. Pruss Archives

More Generally: Contemporary Thinkers (193)

June 26, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen's Necessary Existence: Conclusion and Table of Posts

Pruss and Rasmussen conclude with an appendix providing "a slew of arguments" for the claim that there is a necessary being. These arguments are, for the most part, presented without defense or other comment, and it is clear that the authors do not actually endorse the premises of all of them. However, they contribute to the book's broader purpose of showing that the existence of a necessary being is difficult to avoid, and that determination to avoid it commits one to some substantive philosophical views. Every one of Pruss and Rasmussen's arguments leaves open certain paths for the opponent to...
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June 25, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen on Arguments Against a Necessary Being

Many philosophers find the premises of at least some arguments for the existence of a necessary being attractive, but regard the existence of a necessary being either as itself absurd or as having absurd consequences. Pruss and Rasmussen's ninth and final chapter therefore considers a series of six arguments against a necessary being. For the most part, the responses have a common structure. An opponent employs certain principles of logic, epistemology, or semantics connected with possibility and necessity to argue against the existence of a necessary being. Pruss and Rasmussen respond by showing how those same principles can be employed...
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June 24, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen on the Gödelian Ontological Argument

Pruss and Rasmussen's eighth chapter focuses on the Gödelian ontological argument, which is so-called because it is based on some unpublished notes by the mathematician Kurt Gödel. Pruss has already written extensively on this argument, and it is safe to say that he is recognized as its foremost proponent today. The argument here (in contrast to Pruss's previous treatments, and also to the original Gödel notes, and the influential treatment by Sobel) is presented with the bare minimum of technical apparatus and should be accessible to anyone familiar with the basics of sentential logic. Along the way, the chapter includes...
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June 21, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen on the Argument from Necessary Abstracta

Pruss and Rasmussen's seventh chapter puts forward an argument for the existence of a necessary concrete being from the existence of necessary abstracta. They connect this strategy with an argument of Leibniz's. The Leibnizian argument, usually known as the 'argument from necessary truths', is to some extent known in the contemporary literature, but it has not become part of the standard list of arguments for the existence of God. (For instance, it is not discussed in Jordan Howard Sobel's Logic and Theism or Graham Oppy's Arguing About Gods.) Leibniz himself always seems to run through this argument very fast, and...
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June 20, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen on Modal Uniformity

Pruss and Rasmussen's sixth chapter is entitled "From Modal Uniformity." Based on the general format of the book, one might have expected a new argument for a necessary being from modal uniformity, but that is not exactly what happens in this chapter. Rather, a principle of modal uniformity is offered in support of the possibility premises employed by the previous arguments. The general idea behind principles of modal uniformity is that certain kinds of differences in propositions look modally irrelevant. That is, we don't expect these differences to lead to a difference in modal status. Pruss and Rasmussen focus on...
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June 19, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen's Second Argument from Possible Causes

Traditional cosmological arguments typically include a premise about what things have causes or explanations. Modal cosmological arguments rely instead on a premise about what things could have causes or explanations. The aim of Pruss and Rasmussen's fifth chapter is to uncover the weakest/safest/most modest principle about possible causes that can be used to construct a valid modal cosmological argument. They arrive at the following (I retain their numbering): The W Principle: normally, for any property P, if (i) P can begin to be exemplified, (ii) P can have instances that have a cause; (iii) P is basic or a determinate...
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June 18, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen's First Argument from Possible Causes

Pruss and Rasmussen's fourth chapter discusses what the authors variously describe as a "modal cosmological argument" or "argument from possible causes". Although this type of argument has received some discussion in the recent philosophy of religion literature, it is much less well known than the classical argument from contingency discussed in chapter three, and the dialectic of objections and replies is much less well-worn. The idea behind this kind of argument is that since the modal system S5 defended in chapter two validates the inference from possibly there is a necessary being to there is a necessary being, it suffices...
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June 17, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen on the Argument from Contingency

Pruss and Rasmussen's third chapter begins the book's main project, the examination of arguments for a necessary being. They describe the argument presented here as "classical," in contrast to the "newer, more sophisticated" arguments they will discuss later (p. 33). The argument they present is indeed pretty similar to versions that would be found in a typical survey of philosophy of religion. However, the discussion of the argument is careful and sophisticated, and it does show how the considerations about modality discussed in chapter 2 can help to improve our understanding of the argument, and in particular to answer some...
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June 14, 2019

Pruss and Rasmussen on Modal Logic

Chapter two of Pruss and Rasmussen's Necessary Existence can be seen as preliminary to the main project of the book. The core aim of the chapter is the explanation and defense of a picture of metaphysical modality that is already (so it seems to me) standard among analytic metaphysicians. The chapter concludes with a brief demonstration of a proposition that will be a crucial lemma in many of the arguments throughout the book: if a necessary being is possible, then a necessary being is actual. Those who are already immersed in analytic metaphysics and accept the modal system S5 could...
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June 13, 2019

Introduction to Pruss and Rasmussen, Necessary Existence

One of my projects this summer is a review of Alexander Pruss and Joshua Rasmussen's Necessary Existence for American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. I read the book for the first time a few months ago, but I'm now working through it more carefully in preparation for writing the review. I've often found it helpful in the past to write a blog post about each chapter of a book and then condense them into a review, and I'll be doing that here over the next couple of weeks. The project of the book is to investigate arguments for the claim that there...
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April 23, 2014

Hudson on Skeptical Theism and Divine Deception

The forthcoming Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion is full of interesting stuff! So far, I specially recommend Bishop and Perszyk on alternative conceptions of God and Dougherty and Pruss on apparently unjustified evils as 'anomalies' (in the philosophy of science sense). I have not yet read the last four articles. Here, I want to comment on Hud Hudson's "The Father of Lies?" (This post got longer than I intended, so I've added sub-headings. If you get bored in the middle, please skip to the end. I've also bolded important parts to make for easier skimming.) Hudson's Argument Hudson's central...
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December 20, 2013

Jacob Ross on the PSR

Leibniz famously claimed that, once we have endorsed the Principle of Sufficient Reason, "the first questions we will be entitled to put will be - Why does something exist rather than nothing?" The answer to this question, he further claimed, "must needs be outside the sequence of contingent things and must be in a substance which is the cause of this sequence, or which is a necessary being, bearing in itself the reason for its own existence, otherwise we should not yet have a sufficient reason with which to stop" ("Principles of Nature and Grace," sects. 7-8, tr. Latta). In...
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December 15, 2013

Kleinschmidt on the Principle of Sufficient Reason

Philosophers have perhaps more often assumed the Principle of Sufficient Reason than argued for it. Furthermore, this assumption has, in recent years, fallen out of favor due to the PSR's allegedly unacceptable consequences. Recently, however, the PSR has been defended by Alexander Pruss and Michael Della Rocca. Pruss and Della Rocca both argue that (a version of) the PSR is a presupposition of reason. Pruss defends a version of the PSR restricted to contingent truths and consistent with libertarian free will and indeterminism is physics as a presupposition of our scientific and 'commonsense' explanatory practices. Della Rocca argues that the...
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August 28, 2013

Three Responses to the Argument from Contingency

In my view, the cosmological argument from contingency is the most powerful philosophical argument for the existence of God. By a 'philosophical' argument, in this context, I mean a way of giving reasons for something that does not depend on detailed empirical investigation, or on idiosyncratic features of a particular individual's experience or psychology. Thus I do not hold that the argument from contingency is the best reason anyone has for believing in God. I think, for instance, that some people have had religious experiences which provide them with stronger reasons than the argument from contingency could, even making very...
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June 19, 2013

"Infinite Power and Finite Powers"

I have posted a new draft, "Infinite Power and Finite Powers," to my writings page. This is the paper I plan to present at the divine infinity conference in Bochum, Germany in August. In it, I argue that the ordinary notion of power or ability should be understood as a notion of approximation to an ideal, where that ideal is provided by the analysis of omnipotence which Alexander Pruss and I have previously defended.
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May 20, 2013

Omnipotence and the 'Delimiter of Possibilities' View

Aquinas notes that some analyses of omnipotence have a serious problem: they reduce the apparently substantive claim "God is omnipotent" to the trivial claim that God "can do all that He is able to do." Now, perhaps it is true that to be omnipotent is to be able to do everything God is able to do (or at least that omnipotence entails this), but this is hardly an illuminating analysis. In several places in his Anselmian Explorations, Thomas Morris defends the view that the Anselmian God is the 'delimiter of possibilities.' This view has been endorsed by other Anselmians, and...
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November 30, 2012

Divine Power, Alternate Possibilities, and Necessary Frankfurt Cases

Much of the difficulty in analyzing the notion of power comes from the various limitations of creaturely power: our powers come and go, and they are not infallible (sometimes we have the power or ability to do something, and nevertheless fail to do it when we try). These are the sorts of cases which derailed conditional analyses of power. However, an omnipotent being would have none of these limitations. In our paper, Alexander Pruss and I exploited this fact to develop an analysis of omnipotence, or unlimited power, without the need for a prior analysis of power. This approach has...
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December 15, 2011

"Understanding Omnipotence"

"Understanding Omnipotence," co-authored by myself and Alexander Pruss, has been accepted for publication by Religious Studies! Cambridge University Press's latest copyright agreement permits authors to post preprints on their personal web-sites, so I have made the complete text available here. Also, here is the abstract:
An omnipotent being would be a being whose power was unlimited. The power of human beings is limited in two distinct ways: we are limited with respect to our freedom of will, and we are limited in our ability to execute what we have willed. These two distinct sources of limitation suggest a simple definition of omnipotence: an omnipotent being is one that has both perfect freedom of will and perfect efficacy of will. In this paper we further explicate this definition and show that it escapes the standard objections to divine omnipotence.

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