Thursday, November 10, 2016

Epircurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Necessity

One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter's (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being. 

A stronger version of Epicurus' core argument can be developed by adding an appeal to something in the neighborhood of origin essentialism. The basic line of reasoning here is that being uncreated is an essential property of matter, and thus that the matter at the actual world is essentially uncreated.

Yet stronger versions of the argument could go on from there by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason to argue that whatever plays the role of being eternal and essentially uncreated does not vary from world to world, and thus that matter is a metaphysically necessary being.

It seems to me that this broadly Epicurean line of reasoning is a cosmological argument of sorts, but one that concludes that matter, and not an immaterial creator, is the uncaused cause of contingent concrete reality. Let us therefore call any argument that deploys the principle ex nihilo nihil fit to infer the factual or metaphysical necessity of matter (or matter's ultimate constituents) an Epicurean Cosmological Argument.  

Given its simplicity and plausibility, I think it's high time for Epicurus' little argument to receive the attention and development it deserves.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Announcement: 6th Annual Metaphysics Conference on Philosophy of Religion

The University of Southern California will be hosting the 6th annual California Metaphysics Conference, January 20th-22nd, 2017. This year's topic is Philosophy of Religion and Metaphysics!

Andrew Bailey
Ricki Bliss
Jeffrey Brower
Lara Buchak
Hud Hudson
Michael Rea
Bradley Rettler
Amy Seymour
Meghan Sullivan
Christina Van Dyke

Attendence is open (and free) to all who would like to come, but you must register by emailing kleinsch [at] usc [dot] edu no later than December 15th, 2016. Please include your full name and university affiliation in the email. You will not receive a confirmation email, but your name should appear on the list of participants within 30 days. Also, let me know if you are a graduate student from outside CA and you are interested in being an assistant organiser!

University of Leeds Centre for Philosophy of Religion Website


Friday, October 14, 2016

Contrarian Philosophy of Religion Friday

If lacking the ability to do wrong thereby makes a person a robot, then the God of classical theism is thereby a robot. But if the lack of ability to do wrong does not thereby make a person a robot, then finite creaturely agents who lack such an ability are not thereby rendered robots.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

CfP: Inquiry: New Work on the Existence of God


In recent years, methods and concepts in logic, metaphysics and epistemology have become more and more sophisticated. For example, much new, subtle and interesting work has been done on modality, grounding, explanation and infinity, in both logic, metaphysics as well as epistemology. The three classical arguments for the existence of God – ontological arguments, cosmological arguments and fine-tuning arguments – all turn on issues of modality, grounding, explanation and infinity. In light of recent work, these arguments can - and to some extent have - become more sophisticated as well. Inquiry hereby calls for new and original papers in the intersection of recent work in logic, metaphysics and epistemology and the three main types of arguments for the existence of God. 

The deadline is 31 January 2017. 
Direct queries to einar.d.bohn at

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Divine Command Theory and the Free Will Defense: A Tension

A common line of reasoning in response to the problem of evil is (very roughly) that free will is an exceedingly great good, but God can't give us this good without thereby preventing the possibility of our misusing it and causing evil in the world. My concern here is not whether the free will defense is a successful defeater for the problem of evil, but rather whether it fits well with a popular theistic view of meta-ethics, viz., divine command theory. 

To see the worry, start with a crude version of divine command theory, according to which all moral properties, including both moral values and moral duties, are grounded in God's decrees. On such a view, God can confer moral value or moral worth on anything he likes by mere decree, in which case free will isn't intrinsically valuable, in which case God's ability to bring about the greatest goods isn't dependent upon creating creatures with free will, in which case the free will defense looks to be in big trouble.

One might reply that the problem raised above can be avoided by appealing to a more sophisticated version of divine command theory, such as the modified version developed and defended by Robert Adams and others. However, it's not at all clear that this will be of help to the theist in addressing our worry. For while it's true that moral value or moral worth doesn't depend upon God's will on this latter sort of view, it does depend upon God's nature, such that something has moral worth or moral goodness just to the extent that it resembles God's nature. But the problem is that God doesn't have the kind of free will in play in the free will defense. This is because God is essentially morally perfect, in which case there is no possible world at which God freely does something morally wrong. But if that's right, then the kind of free will attributed to humans in the free will defense doesn't resemble the kind of agency had by God. In fact, Adams-style modified divine command theory seems to have the implication that creatures with a kind of will incapable of performing morally wrong actions have greater moral value or worth than creatures that are capable of performing them. And if that's right, then the free will defense looks to be in just as much trouble when conjoined with modified divine command theory as it does when paired with the crude version.

New Paper on Modal Fictionalism and the Ontological Argument

Ted Parent offers a powerful critique of the modal ontological argument in his paper, "The Modal Ontological Argument Meets Modal Fictionalism", Analytic Philosophy (forthcoming). Here is the abstract:
This paper attacks the modal ontological argument, as advocated by Plantinga among others. Whereas other criticisms in the literature reject one of its premises, the present line is that the argument is invalid. This becomes apparent once we run the argument assuming fictionalism about possible worlds. Broadly speaking, the problem is that if one defines “x” as something that exists, it does not follow that there is anything satisfying the definition. Yet unlike non-modal ontological arguments, the modal argument commits this “existential fallacy” not in relation to the definition of ‘God’. Rather, it occurs in relation to the modal facts quantified over within a Kripkean modal logic. In brief, we can describe the modal facts by whichever logic we prefer—yet it does not follow that there are genuine modal facts, as opposed to mere facts-according-to-the-fiction. A broader consequence of the discussion is that the existential fallacy is an issue for many projects in “armchair metaphysics.”

The penultimate draft can be found here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Levey's Important New Paper on PSR

Levey Samuel. "The Paradox of Sufficient Reason", The Philosophical Review 125:3 (July 2016), pp. 397-430.

Here's the abstract:
It can be shown by means of a paradox that, given the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), there is no conjunction of all contingent truths. The question is, or ought to be, how to interpret that result: Quid sibi velit? A celebrated argument against PSR due to Peter van Inwagen and Jonathan Bennett in effect interprets the result to mean that PSR entails that there are no contingent truths. But reflection on parallels in philosophy of mathematics shows it can equally be interpreted either as a proof that there are “too many” contingent truths to combine in a single conjunction or as a proof that the concept contingent truth is indefinitely extensible and there is no such thing as “all contingent truths.” Either interpretation would reconcile PSR with contingent truth, but the natural rationales of those interpretations are at odds. This essay argues that the second interpretation is a more satisfactory explanation of why, if PSR is true, there should be no conjunction of all contingent truths. This sheds new light on the nature of the explanatory demand embedded in PSR and uncovers a number of surprising implications for the commitments of rationalism.
Required reading.
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