Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Mereological Argument Based on Alethic Realism

1. There are true propositions. (Premise)

2. Every true proposition is part of a maximally alethic state of affairs A. (Premise)

3. The contents of A are possibly known by a mind. (Premise)

4. Hence, an omniscient mind possibly exists. (implied by 1 - 3)

5. A possibly existent omniscient mind either has necessary or contingent existence. (Premise)

6. An omniscient mind cannot exist contingently. (Premise)

7. Therefore, a necessary and omniscient mind exists. (From 4 - 6)

I currently accept (6) solely on intuition. I'm sure some argument can be forged for its plausibility, but I wonder if such an argument would be persuasive and (more importantly) sound.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Transcendental Argument

That's right: a classical Aristotelian is defending a version of the so-called "transcendental argument" for God's existence. First, what does it mean for something to be transcendental? In a few quick words, the term refers to a thing's necessary preconditions. In order for water to exist, it must be composed of hydrogen and oxygen. H2O is, therefore, a transcendental of water.

More seriously, we might ask: how do we know X is true? Before determining whether X corresponds to reality in fact, we must determine whether X is logically coherent. Unless something is consistent with the laws of logic, then, it cannot exist. I realize I'm dumbing it down a bit here, but believe it or not, there are actually people who reject this line of thought. I won't pursue such a radical perspectivism at this juncture, though. In any case, the laws of logic are a necessary precondition of rational inquiry. Let's start our argument like this:

Axiom 1. One cannot be rational while rejecting rational inquiry.

Axiom 2. One cannot be rational while undermining the necessary preconditions of rational inquiry.

Here, now, is the first part of the proof, via reductio ad absurdum:

Prove A: The laws of logic are universal.

Assume ~A: The laws of logic are not universal.

~A --> B: If the laws logic are not universal, X can be ~X.

~B: X cannot be ~X.

~~A: by modus tollens.

Therefore, A: by negation, the laws of logic are universal.


Most fundamental to the laws of logic are the laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle. I would also add the transitive axiom (if A = B, and B = C, then A = C) to that list. In order to engage in rational inquiry, one must be consistent with at least these four laws of logic. They are transcendentals of rational inquiry.

Now comes the next part: from universality to existence. Does the universality of logic entail that it exists? One reason to think it does is that if X possesses the attribute of universality (I've also mentioned indispensability in the past), then X must exist. For, non-existent entities cannot possess any attributes whatsoever. The positive attribute of universality provides us with solid ground to accept the laws of logic as having an ontological instantiation throughout reality.

However, the laws of logic are abstract objects. They don't stand in any causal relations to other entities. For example, the number 5 cannot mow my lawn or pick up my laundry. So in what sense do these abstract objects, especially the laws of logic, exist?

We have already ruled out a strong form of nominalism. We are left Platonism and conceptualism. The argument may go something like this:

1. Abstract objects are either a) non-existent, b) mind-independent entities, or c) mental concepts.

2. Abstract objects exist. (contrary to 1a)

3. Abstract objects are not mind-independent. (contrary to 1b)

4. Therefore, abstract objects are mental concepts. (From 1 - 3)

Now, why think premises (2) and (3) are correct? We have already given a defense the ontological instantiation of abstract objects, based on their having the attributes of universality and indispensability. As I stated above, the real meat of the debate is between the Platonist and the conceptualist. I concede that I find the arguments for the existence of abstract objects so compelling that if, hypothetically, I were to abandon conceptualism, I would gladly embrace Platonism.

Nevertheless, I think there are good arguments in favor of conceptualism, as well as good arguments against Platonism. Assuming that abstract objects are mind-independent entities that also lack any causal relations, how can we possibly have knowledge of them? There is a causal relationship between the mind knowing and the object being known by the mind. For example, as I look into my laptop's monitor, my eyes act as part of a bridge in the causal relationship between my mind and the monitor.

But on Platonism, there just is no causal relationship to appeal to because abstract object are causally effete. It is for this reason alone that I believe Platonism should be abandoned in favor of conceptualism.

The really interesting part here is that abstract objects cannot be grounded in just any mind. For there are contingent minds, much as myself, who are incapable of grounding any necessary truths. Instead, we ought to conclude that there exists a necessary mind that grounds abstract objects. But not only is this necessary mind the ground of abstract objects. Still further, this necessary mind must know all true propositions. The union of all true propositions is itself an abstract object. Since only an omniscient mind could know all true propositions, it follows that a necessary, eternal, omniscient mind exists.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Plausible Ontological Argument

1. Necessarily, something exists. (Premise)

2. There is a possible state of affairs at which nothing contingent exists. (Premise)

3. If something exists and nothing contingent exists, then something necessary exists. (From 1 and 2)

4. Hence, something necessary possibly exists. (From 2 and 3)

5. Therefore, something necessary exists. (From 4 and S5)

Like all ontological arguments, it is really premise (1) that is most controversial. However, I think that the above premise (1) is quite obviously true, and not nearly as controversial as the usual "a maximally great being possibly exists." In its denial of ontological nihilism, the proponent may simply stress that a state of affairs at which nothing at all exists would itself be an existing entity. Of course, this commits us to either realism or conceptualism, the latter of which I prefer.

I would argue further that this necessary entity is a mental concept, which could only be grounded in a necessary mind, e.g. God. However, I don't want to pursue that argument at the moment.

For those skeptical of S5, let's instead consider the following reductio, having already granted the truth of (1) and (2):

Assume (6): a necessary entity does not exist. (6) and (2) imply that there is a possible state of affairs at which nothing exists. However, this contradicts (1), which states that something or other must exist. Therefore, (6) is false, and (5) is true. An appeal to S5, while legitimate, is unnecessary in this case.

Naturally, the Platonist will gladly accept the conclusion of this argument. If he is also an atheist, though, then he will presumably insist that the necessary entity concluded to in (5) is one of the forms, and not a concrete entity, such as God. The debate, then, turns upon whether one should adopt Platonism or conceptualism, but I regress.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is Existence a Predicate? Does it Matter?

Many of us dismiss the ontological argument as demonstrably unsound by reciting Kant's famous dictum that "existence is not a predicate." Besides the context of this line being directed toward Descartes' ontological argument, which is irrelevant to any modal versions of the proof, there seems to be a certain impertinence of it with respect to other arguments for God's existence.

Take, for example, an argument I am quite fond of: the Thomistic cosmological argument (TCA). The TCA, in its most basic form, suggests that being, or existence, or actuality, is an entity in its own right. What's interesting about this is that Kant even appears to be persuaded by this line of thought at times. As he points out, one would much rather possess an existing fortune than a non-existing one. Yet, doesn't this require an ontological difference between the two?

If being is not a real entity, then it is strictly a non-entity. But, how can two things be distinct through a non-entity, e.g. nothing? To be distinct through nothing is to be identical, so it appears manifest that being is itself an entity. Given that something exists, then, it follows that being exists.

Since I have argued on multiple occasions that being itself is Pure Act, I won't repeat myself at this time. Nevertheless, it's worth considering that we ought to be cautious when citing Kant's dictum. Besides the skeptic's interpretation, we have two additional alternatives: a) Kant was wrong; or b) Kant is being misinterpreted. I'm inclined to accept the latter.