Friday, September 17, 2010

Necessary Being(s)

I think there’s a good case to be made for a necessary being (NB), driven by an argument from contingency. But what else can we say about the NB?

I think a lot about the nature of this NB, and have been oscillating between different conceptions. At one pole is a conception of a chaotic and indifferent mega-cosmos which contains every non-contradictory thing as an actual or latent part. Then, I consider incrementally “tamer” NB’s which are shaped by additional necessary features.

To start, it certainly seems plausible that a broad range of logical and mathematical truths are necessary. Perhaps all reality must contain some minimum degree of order, so it can be grasped by reason (although I don’t see why our local physical laws should be thought specifically necessary). Much more controversially, my study of the mind/body problem leads me to suspect all concrete existence is necessarily experiential or proto-experiential in character. And, going further on a limb, where there is experience, there is value: perhaps value and morals are somehow grounded in the nature of the necessary being.

But this project of “taming Chaos” gets increasingly problematic.

Coming at this from the other direction, most people who posit an NB are theists who believe in a personal God with various attributes who sometimes acts as an agent within the world. I don’t see right now how I’d ever get to this conception.

What seems most clear is that the NB must be the maximum instance of existence. Any more specific or idiosyncratic depiction of God runs the risk of being inconsistent with this. (I thought Mark Johnston, in his book Saving God, is good on this point, when he argues that if God is the “highest one”, any devotion to a more specific and hence lesser deity can be seen as idolatry.) This is where “divine simplicity” breaks down, too: the only arguably “simple” NB is the metaphysically maximal one.

Once you layer God with attributes which are derived from human properties, and most obviously if you make God an actor in an earthly drama (rather than him “in whom we live and move and have our being”), it seems clear you’re no longer talking about the NB.

Comments welcome -- this is difficult stuff!

4 comments:

Allen said...

To start, it certainly seems plausible that a broad range of logical and mathematical truths are necessary.

I think you place too much importance on this point. Logic and math are just axioms and rules of inference, right? So if you start with the same assumptions (axioms) as I do, and apply the same rules of inference as I do, then you will arrive at the same conclusions that I do.

What's so special about that?

I think there is an unreasonable tendency towards mysticism when it comes to math and logic.

Perhaps all reality must contain some minimum degree of order, so it can be grasped by reason

Why should that be the case? This sounds like a very peculiar restriction for reality to have. Seems very ad hoc and arbitrary. What would enforce this restriction?

Much more controversially, my study of the mind/body problem leads me to suspect all concrete existence is necessarily experiential or proto-experiential in character.

So if a non-experiential substrate underlies conscious experience, then there must be some rule or law that controls the relationship between the substrate and the experiences that it generates.

But here we would apply the principle of unreason: why does that rule exist rather than some other rule, or no rule at all? Why does the same rule (or any rule) continue to hold from instant to instant?

However, even if the underlying substrate *is* experiential, if the experience of the substrate isn't the same as the experiences generated, then there *still* must be some rule or law that governs the relationship between the substrate and the higher level experiences that it generates. And this rule is still vulnerable to the principle of unreason.

Steve said...

Thanks Allen. Those are good points. And the "principle of unreason" can be a potent source of skepticism about claims such as these. But isn't there anything in our local reality which can be taken to be a necessity?

I think there could be. While the details of our experience and its contents seem contingent, aspects of their character seem pretty robust. On the other hand, I don't know what I have to go on here beyond intuition - and there is plenty of room for disagreement there.

Allen said...

But isn't there anything in our local reality which can be taken to be a necessity?

I can't imagine how there could be.

While the details of our experience and its contents seem contingent, aspects of their character seem pretty robust.

Seem. There's that word again.

If reality weren't robust, is it conceivable to you that we could still believe it to be, despite massive evidence to the contrary?

What about dreams? You've never had a dream in which bizarre things happened, which you didn't question in the dream? Where the weirdness only became apparent when you woke?

And, of course, there's the example of mental illness...which at the very least points the way to the conceivability of the idea that it's possible to believe *very* bizarre things even when awake.

I don't know what I have to go on here beyond intuition

Hmmmm. I think you should re-examine your intuitions.

"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." -- Sherlock Holmes

Anonymous said...

You might check this book out: http://books.google.com/books?id=pP4NpCZ_fEYC&lpg=PA78&ots=KGyaBVZbOB&dq=rt%20allen%20necessity%20of%20god&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false