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A weird objection to the cosmological argument

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  • A weird objection to the cosmological argument

    Broadly speaking, the cosmological argument seeks an explanation for the existence of contingent beings - beings that could have failed to exist, but nevertheless happen to exist. Contingency here can be cashed out in terms of contemporary modal logic, or specific metaphysical views (such as a being whose essence does not include existence, or a being who is a mixture of act/potency). The existence of contingent beings must be explained by at least one necessary being - a being whose non-existence is impossible, whose essence just is existence and therefore could not possibly have failed to exist.

    I came up with the following very strange possible objection: we don't need to posit a being who is "fully necessary" to explain contingency/composites of essence and existence. A "partially necessary" being would be sufficient. By partially necessary, I mean something like the following:

    Partially necessary being: A being whose existence is absolutely necessary at time t0, but not necessary after t0. So at t0 it is impossible for that being to not exist, but at t1 it is possible for it to not exist. Since it exists necessarily at t0, it needs no explanation for its existence: it's impossible for it to not have existed at t0. We might say its essence just is "existing at t0", or even "necessary existence at t0".
    There could also be partially necessary beings who aren't even past-eternal. Say, a being whose essence is to exist at t0 but not necessarily before t0; this being could necessarily exist at the first moment of time (not requiring an explanation for its necessary and essential existence at that moment) but not "before time". Or a partially necessary being who must exist until the next five seconds, after which it might cease to exist (alongside everything else) or be replaced by another partially necessary being.

    A partially necessary being doesn't need an explanation for its existence because its non-existence is impossible at every moment in which it exists. It could not possibly have failed to exist at those moments. And we might even say that its essence just is to "existence at t0", or "to exist until t0", or "existence for 5000 years", or "to exist at the first moment", or "to come into being", and so on. It makes no sense to ask why it exists or what conjoins its essence to its act of existence, because it necessarily exists; its essence just is "existence as such and such". A partially necessary being (or a group of partially necessary beings) is all we need in order to explain contingent reality. But they'd be relevantly different from God or any kind of necessary being, for that matter.

    How would you respond?

    First, an obvious response would be an appeal to simplicity. A fully necessary being is a much simpler explanation for contingency than a partially necessary one. Partially necessary beings seem very complex and bizarre, and they raise questions like "why does it specifically need to exist at t0 but not afterwards? why can't it continue to necessarily exist? or, if it's not even past-eternal, why must it come into being at that moment?" and so on. Those facts might be necessary ones grounded in the essence, but nevertheless they seem puzzling and/or bizarre and we shouldn't accept seemingly complex and weird necessary facts when we can accept simple ones instead. The objector might have positive reasons to favor a partially necessary being (if he thinks full necessity is impossible, or eternality is impossible, or whatever) but they'd have to be very strong reasons considering how complex and seemingly strange the idea of a partially necessary being is. A standard necessary being is much simpler.

    I'd like to hear some different responses, however. Is the concept of a partially necessary being even coherent? Is it really possible, metaphysically speaking? I think I'm inclined to think there cannot be such a thing as an essence of "existence at t" or "existence for x years" or whatever. It's all just existence, with different durations. So there cannot be a nature that requires some kind of ad hoc existence. A being can exist by a necessity of its own nature, but that's just existence period; there cannot be a nature of existing for such and such a time, etc. This is all part of my intuition, but I'd really be interested in seeing if you have any further arguments or comments to share.
    Last edited by Atno; 02-19-2019, 02:10 AM.

  • #2
    But this misses the entire point of the classical cosmological arguments--if one arrives at a primary causes that is pure act or whose existence is identical to His essence, then by the very fact that it lacks potentiality or a disparity between its essence and existence, it cannot fail to exist. Your objection also doesn't take into account the use of per se causal series in the classical arguments. If the primary cause failed to exist within the first 500 years then reality beyond 500 years would fail to exist. The primary cause is simultaneous with the chain of secondary causes that constitutes reality.

    I don't see how we could arrive at a primary cause that is pure act and subsistent being and then entertain the idea that it could go out of existence, that its existence isn't guaranteed by its essence, that it has a potential to not exist. It seems like a contradiction.

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    • #3
      That's at least an interesting objection. A couple of questions:

      1. presumably such an account requires a perdurantist ontology (ontology of temporal parts) as a back-drop.

      2. how would this function as an adequate response to cosmological arguments such as the PSR argument that aim to explain the existence of the aggregate of contingent beings/the members of the set of contingent beings/this contingent world picture being the case atemporally?

      3. Why should such being necessarily exist at time2 (as opposed to time3) and why should it necessarily not exist at time4? The first is a requires a contrastive explanation, or at least an account of why we cannot give one, and the second only requires a weakened PSR (that existential facts have an explanation).

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      • #4
        As you say it yourself, that type of necessary being is a very strange one. Necessity should make as clear as possible: that's why theistic account are the best, I would say. Perfect being theism, neoplatonic account of simplicity, etc. are all clear on why a being is necessary.

        Moreover, how can a necessary being sustains the existence of everything after it disappears? There's also problem with a mutable necessary being.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by RomanJoe View Post
          But this misses the entire point of the classical cosmological arguments--if one arrives at a primary causes that is pure act or whose existence is identical to His essence, then by the very fact that it lacks potentiality or a disparity between its essence and existence, it cannot fail to exist. Your objection also doesn't take into account the use of per se causal series in the classical arguments. If the primary cause failed to exist within the first 500 years then reality beyond 500 years would fail to exist. The primary cause is simultaneous with the chain of secondary causes that constitutes reality.

          I don't see how we could arrive at a primary cause that is pure act and subsistent being and then entertain the idea that it could go out of existence, that its existence isn't guaranteed by its essence, that it has a potential to not exist. It seems like a contradiction.
          It does take it into account. It's just that the first cause's essence would be identical with "existence at a time t", so it is a purely subsistent being at that moment when it exists. Also, I did say that reality beyond 500 years would fail to exist - either it would fail to exist or this partially necessary being could be replaced by another being that kept the series going. The thing is that this partially necessary being is sufficient to explain why there exists any composites of essence and existence; it doesn't get its act of existence from anything else, it just has it essentially, its essence just IS existence at time t0. But not existence at t1. (And perhaps not existence at any time before t0, either. And so on). The cosmological argument only requires a ground for the existence of contingent beings/composites of essence and existence, but this can in principle be provided by a partially necessary being, if a partially necessary being is possible.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by DanielCC View Post
            That's at least an interesting objection. A couple of questions:

            1. presumably such an account requires a perdurantist ontology (ontology of temporal parts) as a back-drop.

            2. how would this function as an adequate response to cosmological arguments such as the PSR argument that aim to explain the existence of the aggregate of contingent beings/the members of the set of contingent beings/this contingent world picture being the case atemporally?

            3. Why should such being necessarily exist at time2 (as opposed to time3) and why should it necessarily not exist at time4? The first is a requires a contrastive explanation, or at least an account of why we cannot give one, and the second only requires a weakened PSR (that existential facts have an explanation).
            1- I suppose so? I think it requires a specific moment (or duration) to be real to the point where it can play a part in a necessary fact (such as "it is absolutely necessary that X exist at t0" or "it is necessary for X to exist for Y seconds") or in an essence (X's essence is identical with "existence at t0" or with "existing for Y seconds"). As I said, I think one can object to this. I am inclined to believe that there can be no such thing as "existence at tx" distinct from sheer existence itself, there just is existence, so no being's essence can be "existence at t".
            Another way to make the point would also be that it might lead to a seemingly bizarre entailment: the fact that it is t0 would strictly entail the existence of X, and how could any temporal moment entail the existence of something? If it is objected that a necessary being also leads to weird entailments (possible that N -> there is N) one may reply that the one with partially nec. beings is even weirder, and we can't even make much sense of it in terms of essence and existence. A temporal moment shouldn't entail the existence of a being.
            But given perdurantism, the idea would rather be that X's essence is "existence with such and such temporal parts", and that it is necessary that X to exist with those temporal parts, right? I don't know, but something seems strange here.

            2- I don't see how it would fail to answer that kind of question, unless I misunderstand it. This contingent world picture would be the case atemporally - including all contingent facts at all times - because of the existence of at least one (or a group of) partially necessary being that, say, absolutely had to exist until the year 2020. When 2020 arrives, the partially necessary being can cease to exist, and bring to an end all contingent beings. Or it might be replaced at 2020 by a partially necessary being whose essence is to exist from 2020 onwards. Since we don't really know if there is a contingent reality at 2020, these scenarios would be consistent (though someone can of course complain that they are weird or complex).

            3- Couldn't necessary facts about, e.g. essences or natures, blunt the need for those questions? "Why does a triangle have three sides instead of 4? It just is the nature of a triangle to have three sides. It's its essence. Just like there is an essence square, which has 4 sides..." So, it just is the essence of X to have to exist at time2 but not at time3. Just like it is part of the essence of a human being that it does not naturally grow to be 1 km tall. Do you think we can/should still ask those questions even if they're supposedly necessary facts of X's nature?
            Also one detail about the second question, X could contingently exist at time4 (if there is a partially necessary being at time4 that gives existence to X...), it doesn't have to necessarily not-exist at that time.
            Last edited by Atno; 02-19-2019, 03:05 PM.

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            • #7
              It doesn't seem that concept of a "partially" necessary being makes sense. or If it does then literally every actual and possible being can be said to be partially necessary.
              After all a necessary being by definition is the one which can't fail to exist, this isn't the sort of property that can be properly attributed to something Partially because this isn't the sort of property which comes in degree (even though one might think of intrinsic and extrinsically caused necessity) and there is no sense in which this essential feature is retained in defining something as Partially necessary,
              Again about my first point for any being I can imagine if its metaphysically possible at all then it can be said to be partially necessary given that necessarily, it exists in some world for some duration of time.
              Whats more, I agree with what Joe said. Such a being would be temporal , capable of change, mixture of act/potency.

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              • #8
                I am inclined to say that the notion is not coherent. I don't think 'existence at t0' or 'existence for 5000' years are possible essences of anything. Basically, I think an essence is or is based upon something intrinsic, while these temporal notions are ultimately relational facts about a thing.

                It may be that it is a necessary truth that some thing exists up to t0. But that truth won't be grounded in the essence of the thing. So if one thinks there is a distinction between dependent and non-dependent necessities, then one cannot stop there.

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                • #9
                  I am not so sure this is a real objection to the cosmological argument, but more of a conceptual exercise. For, even if the necessary being explains the totality of contigent things (or what have you), you would then need something to explain it once it is contigent. How you could get around that I suppose, is if you saif that there is a partially necessary being, but once that partially necessary being becomes contigent, its contigency is explained by another partially necessary being, ad infinitum. Although, one could suggest that the infinite regression of explanations wouldn't satisfy the PSR, and you would have to eventually posite a truly necessary being.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Greg View Post
                    I am inclined to say that the notion is not coherent. I don't think 'existence at t0' or 'existence for 5000' years are possible essences of anything. Basically, I think an essence is or is based upon something intrinsic, while these temporal notions are ultimately relational facts about a thing.

                    It may be that it is a necessary truth that some thing exists up to t0. But that truth won't be grounded in the essence of the thing. So if one thinks there is a distinction between dependent and non-dependent necessities, then one cannot stop there.
                    Does that assume perdurantism is false?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Atno View Post
                      Does that assume perdurantism is false?
                      Maybe. I am not sure a perdurantist has to hold that times are part of the essence of temporal parts, though maybe one would hold this if one thought it was incoherent to say that a temporal part could have been present at a time other than when it was present. So then the thesis that there is a partially necessary being would be the thesis that a being has some necessary temporal parts.

                      But then I have the sense that I am thinking of temporal parts as though they were in the same logical category as the substances whose persistence we are trying to give an account of; these are just things part of the essence of which, we are told, is to exist at some specific time. If there is a problem with essences containing reference to specific times or places, then there is a problem with perdurantism's appeal to temporal parts.

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