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… And Then You Can Debate Yourself on Necessary Being

Posted on Aug 14, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Fascinatin’ approach to the problem: Is there a necessary being?

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7 Responses to “ … And Then You Can Debate Yourself on Necessary Being ”

  1. Victoria says:

    It seemed more like a test to distinguish those who understand the concept from those who do not.

  2. SteveK says:

    Some of the questions I did not understand, but the program appears to work around those questions by asking other questions in order to fill in the logical steps. The one’s I did answer I felt pretty confident about understanding what they were asking. Anyway, here is the result I got:

    Congratulations! Your answers (or a subset of them) appear to have an interesting implication: they imply that there is a Necessary Being.

  3. TFBW says:

    I ran through it using what I believe to be a fairly typical set of materialist assumptions, and got a straightforward implication of the existence of a necessary being. Of course, for such a materialist, the “necessary being” in question would probably be the laws of physics, and although that fits perfectly with the philosophical definition of “necessary being”, it’s a bit odd to refer to the laws of physics as a “being” from a plain-language perspective.

  4. G. Rodrigues says:

    @TFBW:

    Of course, for such a materialist, the “necessary being” in question would probably be the laws of physics, and although that fits perfectly with the philosophical definition of “necessary being”, it’s a bit odd to refer to the laws of physics as a “being” from a plain-language perspective.

    This does not make much sense to me. It it not just a “bit odd” to call laws of physics “beings”. They are obviously not nothing, they exist in some sense, and if a materialist grants them the status of necessary beings, then they are beings, period. But on the other hand, the laws of physics are not material beings, so if a materialist asserts their extra-mental reality, they are immaterial beings and the materialist needs to conjure up a Platonic third realm to house them. But at this point the materialist has just denied materialism. Is this argument wrong? And if yes, where?

  5. Crude says:

    Pardon the off-topic post, but (though I suspect he may be already aware of it) Tom may consider doing a writeup on the gay activist domestic terrorism event.

  6. TFBW says:

    @G. Rodrigues:

    I’m hardly the best person to be conducting a defense of materialism, but I’ll see what I can do.

    On the charge that the materialist commits self-contradiction through an ontological commitment to a non-physical thing called “the laws of physics”, let us take a charitable interpretation. A belief in the laws of physics is a belief that matter behaves in a particular way. The ontological commitment is to the material world; the belief that this thing conducts itself in a certain manner is a commitment, but not an ontological one, except to the extent that it re-affirms the existence of the material world (by asserting that it behaves in a particular way).

    By way of analogy, a materialist might reasonably say that a thing is brown without entailing an ontological commitment to “brownness”. It entails some sort of commitment to “brownness” as a meaningful term, but does not go so far as to require that “brownness” be an entity which exists in some concrete realm.

    A lot of this comes down to semantic nitty gritty. Ask a physicist whether the laws of physics exist and he’ll tell you, “yes, of course they do.” After all, if they didn’t exist, how could we discern them? It’s eminently clear that matter does behave in at least a somewhat law-like manner. But then the philosopher responds with, “your statement that the laws of physics exist entails an ontological commitment to the laws of physics.” This seems logically sound, but I think we’re just equivocating on “exists”.

    That’s as much effort as I’m prepared to spend defending materialism for now. I’m not a believer in that doctrine, and it’s not “on topic” for this venue in any case.

  7. G. Rodrigues says:

    @TFBW:

    Since you are not willing to spend much effort on defending materialism (and I say this as a compliment), I am not going to say much in response and content myself in noting that you evade one problem by embracing two or three. Saying that a “belief in the laws of physics is a belief that matter behaves in a particular way” does not amount to much, because no one disputes that matter behaves in an orderly way as there would be no science were it otherwise. What the materialist must account for is *why* matter behaves in an orderly way, and as far as I can see the only route he has available is to posit orderliness as a brute fact, which is to explain absolutely nothing and makes the world ultimately unintelligible.

    By way of analogy, a materialist might reasonably say that a thing is brown without entailing an ontological commitment to “brownness”.

    And here the materialist falls into the black hole of nominalism.

    This seems logically sound, but I think we’re just equivocating on “exists”.

    But it is logically sound and there is no equivocation, as the sense of “exists” is pretty plain — exists as a real, extra-mental being. If laws do not exist in this sense, then they are just beings of reason, mere abstract *descriptions* of the behavior of matter, and as such they explain absolutely nothing (note: for the record, this is the correct conception of physical laws in my view, they are just shorthand for AT essentialist talk of natures and powers). In particular, they *cannot* be necessary beings as your would-be materialist would like to assert.

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