Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Leslie and Kuhn reply


Back in July my review of John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn’s anthology The Mystery of Existence appeared over at the First Things website (and was cross-posted here).  Leslie and Kuhn have now replied in an article of their own for First Things.  My rejoinder will appear at First Things on Friday.

Kuhn, you will recall, is the creator and host of the Closer to Truth series on PBS, and you can find a great deal of material from the show on its companion website.  You can find segments in which Kuhn and Leslie discuss issues pertaining to the subject of their anthology here.  A reader recently emailed me to suggest that readers of this blog might find especially interesting Kuhn’s discussions with Eleonore Stump, which you can find collected here.  And if you visit the site’s gigantic list of participants you will find links to a great many other segments that readers of this blog are bound to find of interest.  You’ve now got your weekend planned out!

32 comments:

Kiel said...

Thanks for the heads up, Ed. I've been looking forward to this. Serendipitously, some of us in Australia have a long weekend ahead!

Kiel said...

Oh, and looking forward to the rejoinder too, especially for this part:

Here’s something that puzzled us. While Ed notes rightly “how could anything actually exist unless it were in some sense a possibility?” why does he seem to make God an exception to this rule? Even if God, instead of being a Person or a Being in a fairly straightforward sense, “just is Subsistent Being Itself,” doesn’t it remain true that God exists? And if so, why does Ed write that all possibilities “pre-exist as ideas in the divine intellect”? For what about the possibility of God’s own existence? How could this possibility itself depend on the fact that God existed so as to be able to think about it?

I'm working my way (slowly and carefully) through Mackie's "Miracle of Theism" and am currently at his critique of Leibniz's cosmological argument. The quote above reminds me how Mackie seems to recognise the metaphysical necessity of a Necessary Being but is left wanting an account of the logical possibility (or necessity?) of it.

My gut tells me that speculation about logical possibility can only be coherent when grounded in metaphysical possibility.

Keen Reader said...

Hugh McCann has something to say about the above quoted subject matter in his recent book (last chapter).

Bobcat said...

I suspect Ed's rejoinder will be based on the notion that actuality precedes possibility, not the other way around. I.e., what's possible is a function of what actually exists -- remember, on Ed's views, what's possible is a function of the powers of actual things. Since God is an actual "thing", and since God has all power, it follows that there is a vast array of possibilities because of God's creative powers.

By contrast, I'm guessing Kuhn and Leslie think that there first of all exists a possibility space, and it's because of this possibility space that anything is actual. (In other words, they would say: "something is actual *partly* because it's possible".)

But these are just guesses on my part!

TheOFloinn said...

How can Existence Itself not exist?

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

"By contrast, I'm guessing Kuhn and Leslie think that there first of all exists a possibility space, and it's because of this possibility space that anything is actual."

I don't know about Kuhn but that's my understanding of Leslie. He hasn't always been explicit about it, but he tends to bring it out more clearly in his later writings. (If so, then in Kuhn's terms that puts him at Level 8.)

Matthew Kennel said...

@Bobcat/Scott

"By contrast, I'm guessing Kuhn and Leslie think that there first of all exists a possibility space, and it's because of this possibility space that anything is actual."

Of course, if he really thinks there is a possibility space, the same kind of thought could be produced about that. In other words, is a possibility space possible? If so, must it exist in itself before it can be possible?

Bobcat said...

TheOFloinn,

I don't know what it would mean for "Existence itself" to exist. But whatever it means, it seems to me, on the surface, possible for existence itself not to exist; it could be that "existing" isn't something that is true of "Existence itself" in the same way that "Tallness itself" isn't tall.

That said, if by "Existence itself" you mean "all of reality", then of course it exists; if by "Existence itself" you mean "the property, 'existence'", then it would seem to me that one could say that it exists, at least in whatever sense properties exist (properties are often said to be instantiated; I take it, then, that the property, 'existence', would be instantiated by itself? That sounds a bit weird to me, now that I say it).

TheOFloinn said...

@Bobcat: It seems to me that nothing at all would exist unless Existence exists. Not sure why this would be mysterious.

Timotheos said...

Kuhn's level 8 sounds very much like prime matter to me. Anyone else thinking this?

Ty said...

I appreciate Kuhn and Leslie's rejoinder. It was thoughtful, and they took Ed seriously.

Timotheos said...

To amend my last post slightly, from the perspective of the physical world, not from the perspective of all reality like Kuhn seems to be looking from.

Bobcat said...

What are you referring to with the word, "existence"? "The sum total of reality"?

It's mysterious only because "existence exists" is not an everyday locution, so I'm not entirely sure what you mean.

Thorgasm said...

The quoted objection from Leslie and Kuhn is really just a repackaging of the 'why doesn't God need a cause' objection to the Kalaam Cosmological Argument. Perhaps the reply to the objection is similar, ie you cannot have an infinite regress of possibilities?

Matthew Kennel said...

It seems to me that a key to understanding this paradox is in the word "possibility." Kuhn says that for X to exist, X must be "possible," and then takes Dr. Feser's idea that possibilities "pre-exist as ideas in the divine intellect," and concludes that X is "possible" if and only if X pre-exists in the divine intellect. Thus, all possible things "depend" upon pre-existence in the divine intellect. But God can't "pre-exist" himself, and therefore God's existence is not "possible."

Kuhn's other complaint seems to be that it is ad hoc for Dr. Feser to exclude God from this definition of "possible." But, to my mind, this is where Kuhn's key misunderstanding lies. Excluding God from that definition of possible follows directly from what classical theism holds about reality. All of reality other than God exists only insofar as it in some way imitates his perfection. However, when we predicate things of God and creatures, we predicate them analogically and not univocally. Thus, there is an analogy between God's existence being possible and the existence of creatures being possible. INHO, the similarity is that a creature's existence is possible if and only if proposing its existence doesn't lead to a contradiction, and the same is true of God's existence. However, the difference is this: creatures exist because they "depend" on God, but God exists with the fullness of being, and is not dependent on anyone or anything else. The reason why other possibilities pre-exist in the divine intellect and God doesn't pre-exist in his own intellect is precisely because they derive their being, their reality, from him. Thus, far from being ad hoc, Dr. Feser's differentiation between God and creatures actually follows quite logically from the classical idea of God.

Timotheos said...

I think the misunderstanding of Dr. Feser is even simpler than that. All Feser says is that it is in some sense possible for God to exist, which, given that he exists and is self-existent, his existence is certainly possible.

It’s like if I ask if it’s possible for me to exist. Of course it’s possible, I exist!

Scott said...

Well, I think what they find puzzling is that Ed says the following three things:

(1) God exists.

(2) Whatever exists is in some sense a possibility.

(3) Every possibility pre-exists as an idea in the divine intellect.

The obvious question is whether God somehow pre-exists as an idea in His own intellect.

I think the answer is pretty straightforward: Ed doesn't literally mean (3). What he means is that every possibility that isn't necessarily actualized (the single exception being the necessarily existent Pure Act) pre-exists as an idea in the divine intellect.

Alternatively, we could bite the bullet and say that, yes, God is in some sense an idea in His own intellect, but the doctrine of divine simplicity requires us to hold that God's idea of Himself just is Himself.

Either way I don't think the point is a very strong one.

TheOFloinn said...

I've never seen that sort of thing as an 'arbitrary exclusion.' I've always understood these arguments to conclude from empirical sense experience to the necessary existence of something: an unmoved mover, an uncaused cause, a necessary being, or whatever. But God is not simply declared to be (say) an uncaused cause; rather, that first an uncaused cause must exist and then additional deductions identify it as God.

Brandon said...

I don't think that there is any literal puzzlement on their part. Ed didn't say that all possibilities pre-exist in the divine intellect, but that "universals, possibilities, and the like" do so as not to be independent of God, and explicitly notes both the scholastic context and the Neoplatonistic roots of what he was talking about, so there's no actual mystery whatsoever about what he was talking about. The real point they are trying to make, I think, is simply that God's own existence must depend on (prior) possibility, which could then (for instance) be explained by creative effective need. It's a nicely made objectio rather than a real confusion.

The major problem with the response is confusion about the doctrine of divine simplicity; although they are common enough confusions it is not surprising to find people involved in them.

Steven Carr said...

Many atheists say they can imagine a nunicorn – a necessary unicorn, and so this means that there is a unicorn that exists in all possible universes.

They are wrong.

From mythology, a unicorn is a pure , good being. It can’t exist in any world where there is gratuitous evil and unnecessary suffering and where evil is triumphant.

We just have to imagine one logically possible world where there there is gratuitous evil and unnecessary and where evil is triumphant and we know that no unicorn can exist in that world.

Just one such world will do, because if no unicorn can exist in such a world, no nunicorn can exist, because that is supposed to be a being that exists in *all* logically possible worlds.

Scott said...

@Steven Carr:

"It can't exist in any world where there is gratuitous evil and unnecessary suffering and where evil is triumphant."

On the Thomist view, no such world is logically possible. All being is good as far as it goes, and evil consists of privation. "Evil is triumphant" ultimately cashes out as "this world doesn't exist."

Steven Carr said...

Really?

You can't imagine a world where abortion does not produce totally unnecessary suffering?

In fact, it is literally inconceivable that there can be evil so bad that it is gratuitous?

Scott said...

@Steven Carr:

"Really?"

Try reading my post again, and this time focus on what I actually wrote.

Steven Carr said...

I did that thanks.

Which is why I wrote what I did and why you are no claiming your words mean something other than what they say.

Are you claiming a nunicorn can exist as although a unicorn can't live in a world of evil, there can't ever be such a world.

That means there could be a necessary unicorn.

Scott said...

@Steven Carr:

I'll try this just one more time: A world in which "evil is triumphant" is not logically possible on the Thomist view, because evil is a privation—an absence of being— and a world in which "evil is triumphant" would ultimately have to be a world that didn't exist. If anything existed at all, it would be, thus far, good.

I don't know what your "nunicorn" argument is supposed to be proving, so I'm not addressing it. I'm addressing exactly what I said I was addressing.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: Try reading my post again, and this time focus on what I actually wrote.

Don't hold your breath. Carr is a troll from Victor Reppert's site. (To be fair, I don't actually think he's a genuine troll, because that would entail some degree of understanding on his part.)

Steven Carr said...

'I'll try this just one more time: A world in which "evil is triumphant" is not logically possible on the Thomist view'

Yes, I thought that is what you were saying - that you find it utterly inconceivable and just plain logically impossible that abortion could produce unnecessary suffering and that abortion is an example of gratuitous evil.

Thanks for the clarification of your words.

Scott said...

@Steven Carr:

"Yes, I thought that is what you were saying - that you find it utterly inconceivable and just plain logically impossible that abortion could produce unnecessary suffering and that abortion is an example of gratuitous evil."

Well, it isn't. But as Mr. Green says . . .

TheOFloinn said...

A world in which "evil is triumphant" is not logically possible on the Thomist view'

ou find it utterly inconceivable and just plain logically impossible that abortion could produce unnecessary suffering and that abortion is an example of gratuitous evil.

Guys, he did not say there was no evil at all, or even that it might not be terrible and gratuitous. He said it could not be triumphant; that is, all-pervasive, all goods having been stamped out.

Scott said...

@TheOFloinn:

Thanks, Mike, but I don't think our friend Steven Carr is seriously interested in forthright discussion.

DNW said...

Bobcat said...
I'm guessing Kuhn and Leslie think that there first of all exists a possibility space, and it's because of this possibility space that anything is actual. (In other words, they would say: "something is actual *partly* because it's possible".)

But these are just guesses on my part!

October 3, 2013 at 7:07 AM"


John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn : " ...because no entity could exist unless it had already been possible for it to exist, any level of Nothing that’s empty even of possibilities must therefore be denied. "

Turns out you made a good guess.

Prince Randoms said...

I'm quite a fan of Kuhn's show. Though I think he is rather lacking in certain Catholic Sensibilities ;)