More on logical & ontological possibility

Necessity-page-0Allow to me pull out a few relevant passages from the Hartshorne piece (Religious Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 [Jun., 1977]), I linked to in the preceding post regarding logical and ontological possibility/necessity (all bold emphases are mine):

“Note that the meaning postulate used to define God can be rejected as lacking self-consistent meaning. Also some hold that ‘there might have been nothing’ is consistently conceivable, granting which the notion of a nature such that there logically must be something having it is absurd. So far as I recall, Hick nowhere discusses the conceivability of ‘there might have been nothing’….”

“What is Hick conceiving when he ‘conceives’ the divine non-existence? Is it ‘the existence of bare nothing’? I take this to be a series of words with no clear, consistent, specifiable meaning….”

“I insist there is a problem here that Hick has merely ignored. It is not incidental to my reasoning but central to it. I think Hick has entirely failed to show what ‘God does not exist’ means, assuming that ‘God exists’ has consistent meaning. He is comparing two allegedly conceivable but not mutually compatible ‘states of affairs’, but has given us no help in conceiving the negative alternative.”

“Consider now the points made by Anselm and me that a logically contingent statement must be such that, were it false, its being true would remain conceivable, and that this conceivability of both truth and falsity is intelligible only with assertions of things that are not eternal, that could come into or go out of existence. A still-born child that never became an actually thinking animal might have survived to become such an animal. A couple that had no child might have had one. Even the logical contingency (conceivable falsity) of assertions about non-eternal things is dependent, Anselm and I hold, against Hick, upon the non-eternality of their subjects. As Aristotle said long ago, eternal things are necessarily necessary and temporal things necessarily contingent. Hick wants necessity here to be merely ‘ontological’, that is, to mean self-sufficient, ungenerated and indestructible. I think Aristotle neither implied nor would have accepted any such view, any more than Anselm would have accepted it. Hick identifies God’s necessity with his eternity and self-sufficiency. However, no one, not even God, can wait forever to see if something is always there; for then he would never know its eternal status. It is necessity that explains eternity, not vice versa. And Hick partly sees this. God will live forever because he could not be destroyed. And this is the logical could not! Hick says so…but adds that this logical necessity depends upon an hypothesis that there is an ontologically necessary being.”

“The issue now grows clearer. Granted that God exists at present, there is no further logical contingency about his always existing. But his non-existence, Hick tells us, still remains conceivable. Yet, how do we conceive this allegedly conceivable negative case?”

“Anselm holds that some existential assertions, all ordinary ones, are logically contingent, that is, their denials involve no intrinsic absurdity, while at least one extraordinary existential assertion is not logically contingent, that is, its denial does involve intrinsic absurdity, either a misuse of words or a contradiction. Thus I cannot at all accept the gulf between talk of logical modality and what Anselm intended. He had the idea of logical necessity, though not the distinction between those cases which involve more than the constants of formal logic as now recognized, and those which involve meanings additional to purely logical ones. Either way the necessity in question turns entirely on the meanings of the terms employed.”

It is analytic that a thing to whose existence there is a conceivable alternative is either something producible (at least indirectly) by causes capable themselves of not existing or of not acting as they acted or would act in producing the thing, or else is something that could exist without cause of its existing and could fail to exist without cause of its non-existing. Since God is conceived as eternal and without cause of his existence, only the uncaused case is relevant. Such a causeless yet contingent existence is without connection with our ordinary ways of understanding contingency. I do not believe that any extraordinary way has been or is likely to be arrived at.”

We do not seek causal explanations of non-contingent truths, as in mathematics, but we do seek them for contingent truths. The empiricists tell us in effect to forget all this when considering God. They accuse Anselm of violating rules; but they violate the elementary rule that logically contingent matters are intelligible in genetic and causal terms, or not at all.”

“As Leibniz with his marvelous clarity saw long ago, a mere definition cannot establish existence, not, however, because there is no logical connection of ‘idea’ with reality, but only because it is possible for sensible sounding phrases to lack definite and consistent meaning, so that the assumed ‘idea’ is only a set of words. I find this more illuminating than all Kant’s lengthy verbiage on the proof. Some definitions, like ‘greatest possible number’, fail to express a coherent thought. Thus the conviction of so many that existence cannot be derived from a mere definition is fully justified, but not for the usual reasons. Thought does have a necessary connection with reality, for even contingent ideas make sense only because there is a creative process able to produce or not produce various things. What lacks necessary connection with reality is only words and sentences. If they fail to capture a thought, they will certainly not capture a true thought.”

“The foregoing theory of contingency, without which I take no stock in any ontological argument, means that to exist contingently is to be, or to have been, contingently produced, that is created. It follows of course that no eternal entity can be contingent. Am I now speaking of ontological or logical contingency? Neither, as Hick explicates terms. His logical contingency of the divine existence is, to me, a meaningless business of a way we can talk about nothing, while pretending to talk about something. All existence implies God as its creative ground, according to both Hick and me. Still there might be, he thinks, neither the creative ground nor its contingent creations. This might be is merely logical, it has no ontological referent. I think it is mere words.”

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13 comments on “More on logical & ontological possibility

  1. formerlyjeff says:

    Hello, Tom. Thanks for the link to Hartshorne’s article. I find Hartshorne’s comments about the unintelligibility of uncaused contingent existence crucial, though not sufficient, to his attempt to make the ontological “argument,” and I’m not at all convinced that an uncaused event is inconceivable. I would say, however, that the existence of an uncaused event renders inductive logic void of value or discernible validity. But more on that later.

    I’m curious, for now, if I’ve been correct in thinking that Hartshorne believed in an eternal, god-world relationship (i.e., that there has never been a time when an extra-divine entity didn’t exist). For the following words from your quotations seem to indicate that he believed all extra-divine entities are/were created by God, which I’m guessing would not be in some eternal creating sense:

    “The foregoing theory of contingency, without which I take no stock in any ontological argument, means that to exist contingently is to be, or to have been, contingently produced, that is created.”

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    • Tom says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Great to hear from you.

      Re: Hartshorne. Right, he did believe in a necessary God-World relation. But he never argued this explicitly as part of his modal version of the ontological argument. He gets to it differently, BUT, he does agree with Aristotle that ‘eternity’ implies ‘deity’. Only God can be eternal. So positing an eternal God-World relation might seem to imply the deity of the world as well. But for Hartshorne (I’m not an expert on process metaphysics) though there is an eternal God-World relation, the “World” per se isn’t eternal. It’s an eternal, creative process involving an infinite succession of actual occasions. So no particular “occasion” or subject is eternal. I’m not sure that’s enough to get him out of the implications of eternity for the world, but I’m pretty sure Hartshorne agreed with Whitehead that God alone was a single, eternal “actual occasion.” So his positing an eternal God-World(s) relation wouldn’t (in his view) undermine his agreement with Aristotle that whatever is eternal is divine.

      Then you said this: “I’m not at all convinced that an uncaused event is inconceivable. I would say, however, that the existence of an uncaused event renders inductive logic void of value or discernible validity.”

      This seems odd. If an absolutely uncaused world/existence renders logic void of discernible validity, what ‘reasoning’ or ‘logic’ could lead you to conclude its ‘conceivability’? It sounds like you’re saying, “Such a world is conceivable, but if it were so it would be inconceivable.”

      Tom

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  2. formerlyjeff says:

    Interesting. You bring up one of the issues I can’t track with Hartshorne on. Namely, I’m not seeing how eternity per se implies a necessary being, let alone one that creates all other beings. Because it seems to me that once one starts (as Hartshorne seems to do) with an actually infinite duration of history, one can conceive of an infinite history of creative events such that no “creator” has an infinite history. It can be represented as follows …

    … X5–>X4–>X3–>X2–>X1

    …where X1 is the latest created entity, which was created by X2, and so on ad infinitum into the past. So you have an infinite history of creations without any of the creators being necessary beings (by Hartshorne’s definition). Hence, you have an eternal history without a being that is either necessary or the creator of all else. The less controversial problem with this history is that it’s less inductively plausible (by being infinitely less parsimonious) than just positing a necessary being that creates all else.

    As for your statement ” If an absolutely uncaused world/existence renders logic void of discernible validity, what ‘reasoning’ or ‘logic’ could lead you to conclude its ‘conceivability’?”, I didn’t say that logic would be rendered void of discernible validity by an absolutely uncaused world/existence. I said inductive logic would. It wouldn’t affect deduction or deduction’s axioms at all, best I can tell. And that’s precisely why I don’t think one can make the ontological argument work. Because we can conceive of states of affairs that many of us think are absurd in the sense that they contradict propositions that seem necessary to the validity of induction. And some of those “absurd” yet conceivable states of affairs (like the one I mention above) don’t entail a necessary being. I’m just not seeing how it’s using language improperly to say that we know what it means for states of affairs to have only temporal-ordering relationships. But if that’s all there were to the relationality of states of affairs, we couldn’t predict anything (i.e., induction couldn’t work).

    I’ve talked with “scientists” that contend that radioactive decay may occur without causality and that quantum theory proves the law of identity doesn’t always hold. Those who reject such claims tend to do so on the grounds that we have no non-arbitrary (to humans, qua humans, i.e.) criteria by which to reject the principle of causality or the law of identity. For since scientific hypotheses are supposedly tentative in the first place, it seems anti-intellectual to some to reject a part of a foundationalism that has so well served the advance of our ability to successfully predict simply because it contradicts a few unfalsifiable hypotheses. Not to mention that mathematical “laws” per se are just predictive heuristics; mathematical equations per se are not ontological causal theories about a world with material entities since they’re also consistent with metaphysical phenomenalism.

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    • Tom says:

      Jeff: I’m not seeing how eternity per se implies a necessary being, let alone one that creates all other beings. Because it seems to me that once one starts (as Hartshorne seems to do) with an actually infinite duration of history, one can conceive of an infinite history of creative events such that no “creator” has an infinite history.

      Tom: Personally I can’t conceive of an infinitely temporal past to begin with. So turtles all the way down isn’t an option for me. But Hartshorne claims to manage it. Nevertheless, he’d reject the idea of an infinite series of contingent turtles sans any necessary ground as impossible on aesthetic and teleological lines. That is, since every world in that series is teleological, and since no world in that series can be the summum bonum (that aesthetic ‘end’ which is its own end and which grounds the teleology of all contingent worlds) for iself or for any others, we must posit a necessary summum bonum as the source and ground of all possible worlds. And with that I agree.

      Tom

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    • Tom says:

      The other issue with supposing the meaningfulness-conceivability of an infinite past session of contingent causes is that this possibility commits you to supposing the meaningfulness-conceivability of the metaphysical impossibility of a necessary being. This the ontological argument does very well. The only way a necessary being fails to exist is if such existence is impossible. And that impossibility is entailed in the possibility you suppose (viz., an infinite regress of finite causes). So to argue the *possibility* of an infinite past succession of finite, contingent causes you have to argue the *impossibility* of God it entails. Can you think of a good argument for the impossibility of God?

      Tom

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      • formerlyjeff says:

        Tom: Personally I can’t conceive of an infinitely temporal past to begin with.

        Jeff: And I can’t conceive of existence without duration. And if God doesn’t exist, I don’t know what g-o-d means other than something imaginary. If memory serves, essential attributes are defined in terms of their temporal duration and are thus contrasted with accidental attributes temporally. The law of non-contradiction is defined in terms of time, as well, and in part for that very reason probably. So to remove God from time is seemingly to remove him from discussion that we can apply the law of non-contradiction to.

        Tom: That is, since every world in that series is teleological, …

        Jeff: Why do they all have to be teleological? As I conceive of teleology, it’s not even consistent with your view of impassibilism. So I’m not sure what you mean by the term. To my mind, to act teleologically is to initiate a causal chain which results in a new, desired felt experience such that the new (i.e., “end”) felt experience is separated temporally from the felt experience had at the initiation of the causal chain by the causal means.

        But I was allowing for your view of impassible causality for the scenario I was describing. And I understand your view to be that God’s felt experience never changes. I was thinking that was Greg’s claim, as well, in T&P. As such, God’s felt experience would not be explanatory of any event that we could predict with any plausibility using induction. And I have no idea how to relate divine knowledge per se to specific events, causally, just as I can’t predict what I will cause, if anything, every time I think “2+2=4” in the future. Knowing’s don’t seem to be predictors of actions except when specific knowing’s are correlated with desires to experience specific, different feelings that are brought about by specific means.

        Tom: … the summum bonum (that aesthetic ‘end’ which is its own end and which grounds the teleology of all contingent worlds) …

        Jeff: I don’t know what “‘end which is its own end” means. I don’t define “end” such that it can possess anything, including itself. You’d have to define “end” as your using it for me to follow you here.

        Tom: And that impossibility is entailed in the possibility you suppose

        Jeff: I didn’t say it was a possibility. I said it was a conceivable history, by which I mean intelligible, by which I mean it doesn’t require any categories I don’t have to say it in words. Just like it doesn’t require any categories I don’t have to say an event is uncaused. I just have to suppose that a ground of the validity of induction (i.e., the principle of causality), is false. Likewise, solipsism is conceivable/intelligible, but it utterly violates inductive logic. Hence, virtually no one (I’d bet absolutely no one) can think consistently with these kinds of intelligible absurdities over time. This is the sense I which I think Hartshorne is on to something. No can think and speak consistently with utterly counter-inductive perspectives. Show me a naturalist that doesn’t use teleological language all the time in their attempts to explain anything biological, naturally.

        But Hartshorne wants to say, instead, that it is unintelligible to say that events are related only in terms of temporal ordering. I would agree that that’s counter-inductive, and hence irrational. But for the life of me I can’t see that it’s unintelligible. In fact, it’s only inductive reasoning (which includes deductive reasoning) together with the acceptance of its axioms that renders a person rational in any practical sense. Because for those limited to reasoning (which I assume Hartshorne deemed himself) to advance warranted belief, deduction is absolutely worthless without induction. For all deductive rules can tell us is that a deduction is true if the premises are true. It can’t tell us that the premises are true or even remotely probable. Deduction (and its axioms) could be absolutely valid with solipsism (and an infinite set of other absurd histories) being the true history(s).

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      • Tom says:

        Ah, the good ole’ days!

        Just to clarify one thing. Hartshorne doesn’t want to say that it’s unintelligible to say events are related only in terms of temporal ordering. Hartshorne is a process theist; he believes events ARE related only in terms of temporal ordering. But none of that is part of his ontological argument. I’m not sure how that got missed. The only interesting point of Hartshorne I brought into the post is his claim that ultimately logical and ontological possibility coincide.

        Tom

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  3. formerlyjeff says:

    Tom: Hartshorne doesn’t want to say that it’s unintelligible to say events are related only in terms of temporal ordering.

    Jeff: Well, what I meant was mere temporal ordering vs. causality, as well. But maybe I misunderstand what Hartshorne means by the following, then:

    “Such a causeless yet contingent existence is without connection with our ordinary ways of understanding contingency. I do not believe that any extraordinary way has been or is likely to be arrived at.”

    If he’s actually allowing for the intelligibility (not ontological possibility) of causeless events, there, then I’ve misunderstood him.

    Note, too, that I’m obviously not ruling out divine revelation as a mode of knowledge acquisition (as you know from the “good ole’ days”). I just think inductive criteria are never contradicted in anything we actually come to know. Because inductive criteria are the epistemological criteria that seem applicable to humans qua humans for practical matters and that therefore condition, in part at least, our meaningful communion with humans qua humans. That way, membership in smaller communities per se need not prevent communion with the broader human community. The minute membership in smaller communities requires the rejection of inductive criteria for induction-relevant subject matter accessible to humans qua humans, members of the smaller community lose communion with humans outside the smaller community even though the subject matter is induction-relevant to those outside the smaller community. And the very definition of thinking irrationality in practical matters seems to mean thinking counter-inductive about a subject matter that is, by nature, induction-relevant. How else would we define it?

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    • Tom says:

      Tom: Hartshorne doesn’t want to say that it’s unintelligible to say events are related only in terms of temporal ordering.

      Jeff: Well, what I meant was mere temporal ordering vs. causality, as well. But maybe I misunderstand what Hartshorne means by the following, then: “Such a causeless yet contingent existence is without connection with our ordinary ways of understanding contingency. I do not believe that any extraordinary way has been or is likely to be arrived at.” If he’s actually allowing for the intelligibility (not ontological possibility) of causeless events, there, then I’ve misunderstood him.

      Tom: He’s arguing *against* the possibility of uncaused contingent events and *for* causal-temporal ordering between conceivable worlds. Because proposing “causeless yet continent existence” is without any connection to us, he can’t concede its possibility. And he doesn’t entertain any kind of apophaticism re: God. You should love Hartshorne!

      Also, I don’t get your rejection of teleology as an a priori feature of all conceivable worlds. That surprised me. I was sure you’d agree teleology is an a priori feature of existence believing as you do in temporal causality as an a priori feature of existence. The absolute absence of teleology is absolute chaos, and that, I think (Hartshorne would agree), is not truly conceivable. Kant argued teleology was required to explain causality and reason itself, induction included! True, we can *say* the words that posit the possibility of an existence which is pure chaos void of all teleology, the terms of the proposition can avoid all explicit, formal contradiction, and we can extend this proposition the courtesy of *considering* its conceivability (which might mean treating it as it it was conceivable for the sake of argument), and for many (most?) analytic philosophers today this would be enough to demonstrate its meaningfulness and conceivability. But Hartshorne didn’t buy it. Conceivability is more than just formal-logical consistency (i.e., no violations of the laws of identity and non-contradiction).

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      • formerlyjeff says:

        Tom: Because proposing “causeless yet continent existence” is without any connection to us, he can’t concede its possibility.

        Jeff: I can’t concede it either, but not because a I think a deductive argument per se precludes its possibility. Deductive conclusions are not known to be true unless the premises are known to be true. So there lies the rub. What premises imply that uncaused events can’t occur?

        Tom: Also, I don’t get your rejection of teleology as an a priori feature of all conceivable worlds.

        Jeff: A world, as conceived by a human, would necessarily be teleological, I’d think. Because intentional conceiving or inferring is teleological by definition by virtue of being intentional, isn’t it? But that doesn’t mean I that I don’t know what it means to say an event is uncaused, does it? Doesn’t it just mean that the states of the event (i.e., a change of state) are only related by temporal relations? That I reject that understanding of events means I conceive of it, doesn’t it?

        Tom: Kant argued teleology was required to explain causality and reason itself, induction included!

        Jeff: Then Kant defines teleology different than I do. That an event is caused, to me, just means that the instantiation of the latter state was conditioned by one of more sufficient antecedent conditions. But the notion of intention (which is included in what I mean by teleology) is not entailed in that definition of causality, best I can tell.

        Tom: Conceivability is more than just formal-logical consistency (i.e., no violations of the laws of identity and non-contradiction).

        Jeff: Clarify that by an example, if you don’t mind. Because to my mind, to know that there are no violations of the LNC or LOI is to have conceived of what is being analyzed.

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      • Tom says:

        Well, we certainly do define things differently. I’m just now in the middle of a major office move, so I’ll have to postpone engaging at length for a bit, though I’m not sure what to say when I have more time. Kant’s view of the telic structure of reationality seems pretty clear, but disagreements are what make the world such an interesting place!

        Tom

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  4. formerlyjeff says:

    Jeff1: That an event is caused, to me, just means that the instantiation of the latter state was conditioned by one of more sufficient antecedent conditions.

    Jeff2: I think that’s not exactly right. I think I would have to say “…that an event is caused, to me, just means that the instantiation of the latter state was conditioned by one of more NECESSARY antecedent conditions.” Libertarianly-free causality seems to be simultaneous with what we would call the effect condition.

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  5. formerlyjeff says:

    Tom: Well, we certainly do define things differently. I’m just now in the middle of a major office move, so I’ll have to postpone engaging at length for a bit, though I’m not sure what to say when I have more time. Kant’s view of the telic structure of reationality seems pretty clear, but disagreements are what make the world such an interesting place!

    Jeff: I agree that rationality has a teleologic structure. Remember, I’m the one that argues that human induction is a teleological inductivism. That’s why I think that God is known first as the designer of the world that we infer and are deemed part of. I think that’s why no one can actually consistently be a naturalist. We’ll always talk teleological about reality whether we want to or not. We have no choice in that matter.

    But you had said that “Kant argued teleology was required to explain causality and reason itself, induction included!” That seems circular to me. To explain is to give a causal account. So what would it mean to give a causal account of the truth of the principle of causality? There is no arguing for a principle that is fundamental. And I think the principle of causality is fundamental. To deny it is to deny the validity of induction (i.e., our ability to actually predict and with enough success to predict with value). And humans can’t live that out consistently and keep their sanity, seemingly.

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