Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Contingency Argument and the Composition Fallacy Objection

Here's my own formulation of the contingency argument:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise)

2. If the sum total of contingent entities C has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a necessary, eternal and very powerful entity N. (Premise)

3. C exists. (Premise)

4. Hence, C has an explanation of its existence. (From 1 and 3)

5. Therefore, the explanation of C is N. (From 2 and 4)

Let's assume the skeptic accepts premise (1), the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).  Instead, he objects that premise (2) commits a composition fallacy: if every contingent entity is explained by another contingent entity, ad infinitum, then C has a sufficient explanation.

I think the problem with this objection is that the regress of contingent causes is itself contingent; there didn't have to be any regress, finite or infinite, of contingent causes.  If every part of a mountain can not-exist, then it's only reasonable to infer that the mountain as a whole can not-exist.  Likewise, if every contingent cause can not-exist, then C as a whole can not-exist.  If the skeptic wishes to deny this, then he is required to say that C is necessary, which is self-contradictory.


  1. I think that even someone who believes in the PSR can argue that now matter how large a 'segment' you take out of the regress, there always is a cause and that treating C as 'a whole' is treating infinity as if it were finite.
    But to be honest, I am not a fan of infinite regresses of any kind, and I don't believe in the PSR anyway. I have no problems with some kind of necessary cause, though. But it should be clear that a necessary cause must only account for the simplest of simple possible world. So far, there is no real argument for why a necessary cause must have the attributes usually associated with God. Since the simplest of simple worlds does seem to require (a lot of) intelligence, nor personality, nor omnipotence, it appears that a necessary cause cannot be omniscient, personal and omnipotent.
    If such omniscient, personal and omniscient entity exists, it looks like it is contingent. Which brings us to Swinburne.

  2. Okay, that's an interesting take. It's not one that I was expecting, but I was really just curious to hear your opinion. I'll leave it at that, then.