Thursday, December 8, 2011

If the PSR is false, there are very many unexplained phenomena

Suppose the Principle of Sufficient Reason is false. Then consider an infinitude of phenomena such as:

  • A brick did not causelessly come into existence in front of me over the past five minutes.
  • A frog did not causelessly come into existence in front of me over the past five minutes.
  • A golden icosahedron did not causelessly come into existence in front of me over the past five minutes.
  • A platinum sphere did not causelessly come into existence in front of me over the past five minutes.
Each of these phenomena lacks an explanation if the Principle of Sufficient Reason is false. This means that it is going to be hard for an opponent of the Principle to defend any claim that the Principle of Sufficient Reason is likely to hold in any given case.

10 comments:

James Bejon said...

So, I realise this isn't the most insightful question in the world: but why couldn't law-based explanations explain such phenomena?

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a good question.

Answer 1: It's logically possible for the laws to be violated. So, now, the question is: Why didn't a golden icosahedron come into existence in violation of the laws.

Answer 2: The laws of nature are all ceteris paribus. So now the question is: Why didn't a supernatural being come into existence ex nihilo and produce a golden icosahedron, in full conformity with the laws, since the ceteris paribus clause applies to the supernatural being's causal influence.

James Bejon said...

I'm afraid I've never been clear on the distinction between metaphysical and logical possibility.

But why couldn't a denier of the PSR hold that it is in fact impossible for laws to be violated, and then claim that the reason a supernatural being didn't interfere with things is because no supernatural beings in fact exist.

Stevo said...

hmm, if you're denying the PSR, perhaps you suspend judgment as to whether any given proposition is explicable.

If that's the case, then the one who objects to the PSR may not be bothered by all the questions you raise since he suspends judgment as to whether they have an explanation. i.e., he doesn't believe we should expect to have answers.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But why couldn't a supernatural being come into existence for no cause at all, cause the existence of the golden icosahedron, and then pop back out of existence? That there aren't any doesn't mean there couldn't be any.

James Bejon said...

OK, so I can see that giving an answer to such a question is difficult absent something like the PSR. But why, on inductive grounds, couldn't one nevertheless think it likely that things have sufficient reasons for their happening?

Nightvid said...

A. Pruss,

Sorry, you are simply mistaken here. The Principle of Sufficient Reason is the proposition that nothing not logically necessary is without explanation. There need exist only one unexplained non-necessary fact in the entire universe (or even, some would argue, an abstract principle for that matter) for PSR to be false. The falsity of PSR doesn't mean nothing has an explanation, it means not everything has an explanation. There is a difference, and I think you just got a little confused.

I might also add that I think that Gödel's incompleteness theorem actually conclusively proves PSR to be false, but of course there might be room for disagreement depending on your interpretation of PSR and of logical necessity.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Generally, people who deny the PSR think it's possible to have all sorts of causeless events. Otherwise, one gets a an adhocish view on which certain kinds of contingent things can lack explanation and others can't.

Nightvid said...

A. Pruss,

Maybe so, for all I know. But that is not a good argument for PSR - we simply minimize the number of "adhocish" (your term) things we must postulate, and the number of postulates themselves. The fact that we should try to minimize this number is not an argument that the minimum is in fact zero.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Are you, then, proposing an alternative to the PSR on which, say, platinum spheres cannot come into existence ex nihilo, but, say, universes can?