In this post I will be discussing a formulation of the Principle of Sufficient and it’s relation to the Cosmological Argument. However, instead of Leibniz’s version of it, we will be using a special formulation of the PSR, made popular by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, stating the crucial principle as “Everything is intelligible”. While for the format of the Argument I will be making modifications to it, this same basic formulation holds true. While Leibniz held that explanations tended towards an explananas, the Scholastic view was that explanations supervened on being. Due to this, the Scholastic has the machinery to escape a great deal many of the problems associated with conjunctive propositions, such as the ones discussed by Van Inwagen. The Thomistic view of truth being a transcendental is key here. Truth is merely being in relation to the intellect. This allows for propositional knowledge to merely be a correspondence relation, not something that is extramental. A point such as this is note worthy here because most scholastic’s held God lacked propositional knowledge, for reasons of Divine Simplicity (which we will discuss soon in our upcoming series on God and His Existence). The reason the point is relevant to the PSR is that because truth is being ordered to the intellect, it is by definition intelligible. So upon noting a specific being we can see by virtue of what it is whether it is intelligible of itself. Since we come to know objects by their quidities, we can note whether its essence ordered to the intellect entails it’s being. If it does not, it is merely in potency to an act of existence, and hence needs an external explanation. With these notes in mind, here is the article:
The Argument from Contingency
This argument, with roots in Greek Philosophy, was perhaps most popularized by the Polymath Gottfried Wilhem Leibniz. While we will be taking some steps back from the position of Leibniz, we do owe a basic formulation to him. The argument we will defending is not the exact version of Leibniz, as said before, who felt that explanations typically terminated in Propositions. For the proponent of a Averoest-Thomistic view on propositions, this is simply wrong headed. Propositions purely supervene on being, being merely devices of the conceptual order. With that note, the formulation of the Argument will be presented as follows:
- Everything that possesses being has its existence plus every attribute it has intelligible, and it has it intelligible in one of two ways A. Through itself and what it is internally (necessary) 2. Through another due to a deficiency in the being with regards to self intelligibility. (contingent)
- If the universe, the whole existing really related world of causal powers (Anderson), is not an intelligible ground for its existence, it has to find its intelligibility through another
- The universe and all of its constituents is not a intelligible ground of its own being (it is contingent)
- Therefore, the Universe’s ground for existence is found in another
- The universe may receive it’s intelligibility externally in one of three ways A. Through an essentially ordered series of contingent causes B. Through an accidentally ordered series of contingent causes C. Through a First Sufficient Explanation (FSE)
- If an essentially ordered series of causes is finite (if one wants to know what an accidentally ordered series and an essentially ordered series are, I refer you to this post) , it is more than obvious that a FSE will have to be posited to explain the effect. Such a series would terminate without an explanation if this is not the case, which is manifestly repugnant to the First Premise
- If such a series is infinite however, we have an absurd conclusion, for merely merely moving the series to an infinite number of deficient sustaining causes serves no more as an intelligible ground for the universes existence than positing a brush of infinite length with the ability to paint by its own self movement.
- Therefore such a series is reliant on a FSE outside of it, imparting intelligibility to the series as a whole
- If the amount of sustaining causes is constituted by a finite accidentally ordered series of sustaining causes, then as stated in premise six, such a series would terminate without an explanation, which is repugnant to premise one. Hence, a FSE has to stand outside the series, giving such a series its intelligibility
- If such a series is infinite however, Leibniz’s argument from Geometry books is of great applicability. For positing an eternal generation of Geometry books serves as no intelligible grounding for their contents or being, and is obviously analogous to an eternal procession of sustaining causes. In order to give intelligibility to a series of this variety, one would have to posit a FSE outside of such a series all together, imparting the intelligibility to each member.
- Hence this series has to terminate in a FSE
- But all three of the options amount to option C (that the explanation for the Universe is a First Sufficient Explanation)
- Therefore, there is a First Sufficient Explanation
- Anything that is composed of distinct parts is contingent on them, and hence stands in an essentially ordered series
- The FSE cannot in principle stand in such a series
- Therefore, the First Sufficient Explanation is not composed of parts
- Supposit and essence are distinct parts
- Therefore, the FSE can have no distinction between Supposit and Essense
- Therefore, the FSE is completely One, with no others possessing its self sufficient glory, for if another did, then it would have to share the Supposit from the FSE, which is impossible
- Essence and existence are parts
- Therefore the First Sufficient Reason is not composed of essence and existence
- But the First Sufficient Reason exists as we have shown, and there are objective facts that can be said about the First Sufficient Reason
- Therefore, in the First Sufficient Reason Essence and Existence are not distinct, but are unified, that which explains what the FSE consists in entails that it exists
- Such a Being is by definition necessary, with it’s act of existence being identical with itself, making it the sort of Being who could not not exist
- Therefore the explanation of the existence of the universe is found in a Necessary Being, one whose essence is its existence, and who is self sufficient, existing with a supreme Oneness unequaled
Now this argument seems a bit odd at first. How exactly is the first premise even justified? After all, this is the crux of the argument. Have we done a few well researched experiments and came to the conclusion that it was true? While there is appeal for the first premise on purely inductive grounds, the strongest justification for it comes from the various retorsion arguments that show that a denial of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (The first premise), leads to self referentially incoherent conclusions. An example of these oddities would be largely found in the fact that a denial of the PSR leads to a level of skepticism not even anticipated by Descartes himself. To quote Alexander Pruss, a Baylor Philosopher:
“Start with the observation that once we admit that some contingent states of affairs have no explanations, a completely new sceptical scenario becomes possible: No demon is deceiving you, but your perceptual states are occurring for no reason at all, with no prior causes.
Moreover, objective probabilities are tied to laws of nature or objective tendencies, and so if an objective probability attaches to some contingent fact, then that situation can be given an explanation in terms of laws of nature or objective tendencies. Hence, if the PSR is false of some contingent fact, no objective probability attaches to the fact. “
So the denial of the PSR leads to a level of radical Skepticism that seems completely untenable. Hence to deny the PSR, under the assumption that it is done rationally, leads to the denial of reason itself. To try to appeal to laws of nature, or perhaps powers (which has other issues for the atheist), one would have to compare an explanation from literally no catalyst to that of an objective law, which seems to be impossible. Hence Pruss concludes:
“it may be taken to follow from this that if the PSR were false or maybe even not known a priori, we wouldn’t know any empirical truths. But we do know empirical truths. Hence, the PSR is true, and maybe even known a priori.”
This argument shows that anyone who thinks the root of knowledge comes from experiential apprehensions like I do, who is at the very least a weak empiricist, should accept the PSR, and hence the crucial premise of the argument.
Though this argument is good enough to rationally compel the reasoned individual, it can be pressed even further. Following the lines of Edward Feser, we can challenge a denier of this premise as a denier of logic, which is undeniably self referentially incoherent. For if the denier of the Principle of Sufficient Reason seeks to justify her central premise, this would involve moving from a few premises in a way akin to a Syllogism and arriving at the conclusion that the PSR was false. But to do this seems to entail a sort of government by this principle. The reason is that unless the Premises are moving along with a sort of entailment, it could follow that the conclusion is simply a brute fact. Yet the critic came to the conclusion the PSR was false through this very method, a method deduced from premises which rationally followed from each other. Any attempt to justify the critical argument against this rebuttal would seem to require again using logical reasoning, which appears to lead to an infinite regress which is untenable in this sort of philosophical endeavor. Therefore, since we can rationally come to the conclusion of the PSR’s falsehood if it were false, it absurdly follows that the PSR is true!
One could deny these arguments by saying that we are noting examples that are only related to human affairs, and particularly ones related to action and becoming. Perhaps a principle such as this governs our intellectual processes, while not governing reality as a whole, something even Kant might implicitly accept. However, once analyzed, this becomes all the less plausible. For if the PSR is merely contingently true of intellectual judgements, its needs an explanation for why it only governs intellectual judgements. The only two options are appealing to A. a First Principle outside of our intellectual judgements serving as the explanation of it applying to our intellectual judgements, or B. positing it as merely a brute fact, making the PSR false. However, A. is outside of our intellectual judgements and B. allows the absurdities we just discussed to slip in, making it all the less preferable. Therefore, the PSR is a First Principle governing every layer of reality, for if it were not, one could always run the same two options just presented to the questioned layer of existence, making this a all or nothing affair.
What of the second premise, that the universe, being the interrelated world of objects in our experience, if it were not the intelligible ground of its being, would need an explanation? This inarguably follows from the first premise. This is simply the form of the first premise with new subjects. It is a conditional statement, which is largely reliant on the truth of the first premise, which we have argued is practically indubitable. To appeal to brute fact scenarios, saying the universe is simply there has some prima facie compellingness, it requires a denial of the first premise which seems quite implausible as we have shown. This reply doesn’t seem to even address the First premise in any real extended way and will not be treated with any considerable length for this reason.
The third premise is perhaps the most controversial (besides the first). Is the universe naturally an explanation in and of itself for itself? It is very rational, in fact indubitable to think it is not. Here are just three arguments to that effect. Firstly, whatever is really distinct from an act of existence cannot be intelligible through itself with regards to its own being. But the universe contains many concrete objects that when abstracted reveal just that. When we abstract what it is to be a dog, we find out that what it is distinct from that it is, which is to say its nature is not by necessity existent. The concept of doggity is the same in both a mind independent Dog and one that exists only in the imagination. These quiddities also happen to be analogous to many items we know do not exist like Unicorns and Phoenix’s. Even moving down to the sub atomic realm, we find just this. Nothing about the essence of any of these items reveal that it exists. For if it did, that item would be self sufficient and have aseity. But since this is false from our experience of many of these things coming into being and gaining accidental forms (like Quarks do when they move spatially), we can conclude that the universe simply does not exist by its own essence, or by the essences of its constituents (if you more plausibly treat the universe as a collection rather than a thing), for nothing about it entails an identity with its act of existence. It follows from this the explanation cannot be a being among beings, but Being or existence itself (which we will go into later). The essence of this cause ultimately has to be identical with its act of existence. If the universe had this feature however, our experience of matter-form composites would be illusory, since matter is the primary form of limit, and secondary matter serves as the main principle of identity. The argument would go as follows: Our experience shows a plurality of distinct items that exist, and form substances that have objective tendencies distinct from each other. From this it follows to have a collection of items distinct from each other is proof of at least some contingency, because no matter the status of Leibniz’s law, it does not match up with the accidents that make up our primary sense data. The descriptions of these items are not identical with its act of existence, and the differing elements of our sense data show this. To be material, or to be in a spatial relation, or to have a particular color different than another object is to be unidentical with simple existence. To press this point further, in order to display a dissenting option on this matter (that all things are identical with their act of existence) to an interlocutor would be to distinguish her from yourself based on a sort of natural difference, which perhaps could show a denial of this point to again be open to more retorison argumentation. Secondly, since atoms have the ability to terminate in all sorts of objects within our experience like water and humans, we can conclude from the fact that it is susceptible to different perfections, at least spatially, that it has to have an explanation for its being and the particular accidental forms it possesses, showing at least the non essential elements to be contingent. Nothing about the operations of these atoms is necessary to them, but appears to require the ordering of another. In order for a disposition to be actuated in a way not ultimately natural or essential to it, an external explanation for this governance needs to be posited, hence requiring an external explanation. Thirdly and lastly, the fact that the universe exists through its parts is a key metric of its contingency. For anything that is compiled cannot be an explanation for itself, since all the parts are ordered in potency to the whole which is in act. Anything that is in potency is merely possible, which displays that the universe, rather than being an ultimate ground for its existence, is completely unintelligible in and of itself. Something that is Simple has to ground the being of anything that exists through its parts (which will be shown in greater length below), in no small way due to the obvious fact that many of the parts are purely contraries and contradictory’s. Nothing about the essence of a human explains the essence of a hydrogen molecule. Since these contraries and contradictory elements are directed towards each other as we have shown, forming a really related world of causal interactions, an external explanation is needed to explain the fact the universe is composite. This directedness is non essential (how could it be in the midst of the distinction just noted), and so treating the universe as a being and not simply a set of beings will not suffice to serve as an explanation for why it exists and why it exists in the way it does. However, maybe the objecter wishes to press a point about part based necessity. Why can the universe not be necessary through its parts? The reason this escape route is fallacious is that postulating part based necessity seems to be a contradiction in terms. One is either contingent on ones parts, which is to say it is not intelligible in itself, or it is necessary through ones parts, which is impossible, because to have real parts is to be dependent on them. Hence, such a system requires a natural compiler to incline these distinct parts together, something that explains the composite. Since all of these parts have quiddities distinct from their existence as shown from our first argument, the beings of the world will have to be created and conserved as well. Retreating into Monism will not help the denier of the world’s contingency here either. For Monism ultimately leads to the conclusion that the ability to isolate a variable is false, since variables under Monism are merely illusory. This therefore makes the success of science purely chance, which the proponent of scientism should obviously deny (obviously there are points about Scientific realism vs anti realism, but that discussion is for another day). For this reason, and the fact that it does not correspond with our introspective experiences of unity, most metaphysicians and scientists do not look upon this position favorably. This is however not the only argument that can be leveled against a Monistic escape route. Even treating the universe as a continuous whole, it cannot ground its own being. For even if we consider the universe in and of itself as a unified thing, it still has features that are not describable in a way conveying identity with being itself (like say being material and having a space time history of a certain length), which means it is still merely possible as was shown earlier. Therefore, since the contingency of the world with regards to esse (being) has been shown, it requires an explanation.
Premise Four follows unarguably from the other three premises.
Now premises 5-13 are explained in their respective ways above, but there is room to comment on them in some form here. It is perhaps arguable that they need to be stated, as my definition of the universe allows for these series to be included. However, this is merely an exercise in precision. The first evasion route one could take from positing a First Being fails because if it were true, the PSR would be false, and since the PSR is not false as we have shown above, a series such as this without an FSE is ill fated. The second way is no more of an escape route than the first route, as an essentially ordered series of causes that was not competent in serving as an intelligible ground for its own being on a finite stage will not be helped being infinite. The analogy used was the one penned by Garrigou Lagrange with regards to Aquinas’s argument from motion. Just as a broom cannot suddenly sweep by itself if it’s handle is long enough, a series of causes unintelligible with regards to existence, will not gain intelligibility if the parts posited are too deficient in this respect, no matter if the length of such a series is infinite. The other two routes were with regards to an accidentally ordered series of procession. The first argument based on a finite series requires the same argument against it as refutation of a a finite essentially ordered series. For if the explanations merely terminated on something that was a brute fact, then the PSR is false, and since we have shown the PSR to be true, such a series is not sufficient in itself. Now, the second argument from an accidentally ordered series, this time presented in its infinite variety, fails because of Leibniz’s analogy and its relevance to our present proof. To quote Leibniz:
For even in this series we run into obvious issues, while every book is explained by a previous book, the existence of books, their contents, and the length they have been written is simply unintelligible when just looking at this series alone . One could ask all of these questions about any contingent object. If a procession of these objects were the only things to possess being, then why do we not run into the same issues. For just as the Geometry books are not grounded due to the type of thing they are, even in spite of them being existent from all eternity in a procession, why is not any series of contingent objects also of this variety? Just as nothing about a geometry book contains any self sufficiency, contingent sustainers no matter how long they have been around, still are definitionally unintelligible, requiring a external explanation of a much higher sort. Hence, since all three options amount to option C, it follows that a First Sufficient Explanation exists.
Now the remaining premises are either about attribute deriving. To start, as shown earlier, since parts require a compiler outside of the being in which they inhere (unless one wants to postulate a break in the PSR, which is absurd or self causation, which breaks the Principle of Contradiction), a FSE, being fully sufficient could not be the sort of thing composed of parts. Since essence, existence, nature, and supposit are parts, these must be foreign to the FSE. Therefore, the FSE must have the attributes of complete uniqueness and supremacy, and identity with being itself. A Being such as this cannot help but be necessary, for what it is (it’s essence) entails that it is. Therefore, a Supreme First Cause and Sufficient Reason for all of reality exists, explaining everything outside of itself.
Now we can seek to prove more attributes of this First Being, not directly listed. From the conclusion that the First Cause brought all of reality that was not Himself into being without any causal conditions or preexistent matter, it follows that such a being is utterly omnipotent. The reason for this conclusion is from the plausible belief that the gap between being and nonbeing is infinite, so whatever brought the world into being from non being would possess infinite power. Also, this is defensible from the truth that the beings in our experience are only in potency to existence, which requires something possesing infinite active power. The First Cause moved the object from potency to act solely from His own power, meaning that His power is not limited by the constraints of our experience to only act on a particular, actualizing subjective potency’s on an already existent patient. This shows that the First Being is not limited in the way we are, and can bring about a merely potential state of affairs in a self sourced manner. Secondly, the First Being must be an intellectual Being, since the only way a particular perfection or object can be brought into being is if it is found formally, virtually, or imminently in the cause (If this were not true, it would be inexplicable what is actualizing a particular potency, hence requiring the PSR to be broken, which we argued cannot in principle be true). Since humans are one such contingent being, a species who possess an intellect, it follows the First Being, the creative cause of man as we previously have proved, possesses an intellect, at least in an analogous fashion to our own. For the First Being can have those perfections which formally contain no sign of limit in a manner at least analogous to our own, not eminently. Another argument to this effect would be that, since the First Cause is Being itself, which would seem to be what the implied conclusion of Anselm’s argument presented in the Monologium (He did believe Divine Simplicity was a conclusion of his particular proofs as well), we can use Anselm’s doctrine of pure perfections and predicate any attribute that has no principle of limit or sign of imperfection to the First Being. Since an intellect has no intrinsic principle of limit or sign of imperfection (at least considered in itself), it follows not only that the First Cause is befitting of an intellect to match His essential perfection, but that He is all wise, His mind being in the intrinsic mode of infinity. Thirdly, since any principle of limit would be a part to the First Being, and since the First Being is as we have previously shown is not composed of parts, it follows that the First Being is unlimited and hence infinite. Fourthly, the FSE cannot be material for two obvious reasons. The most manifest way to prove this is that anything material is composed of matter and form, and since composition is repugnant to the First Being, the First Being is not material. Another way to show this is that anything material has spatial relations, and since the First Being is self sufficient something else would have to explain the particular relation He has, which is a contradiction in terms. This conclusion holds whether one wants to adopt a relative or absolute view of space, either way ends up with foreign attributes not fitting to the FSE. Lastly, as Augustine noted, since existence is the first perfection, prior to any of the essential goods of any concrete object, we can conclude naturally that something that is essentially Being itself would be essentially perfect, Perfection itself even. Therefore we have arrived at a being who is Omnipotent, Uncomposed, Intelligent, All Wise, Infinite, Immaterial and Perfect, not just possessing these things, but in His beautiful simplicity, being these things, with all of His fantastic attributes flowing from the same total reality. To quote the words of Thomas Aquinas, from this proof alone we can arrive at “That which all men call God”.