I have returned from a brief hiatus from blogging. Work, school, the holidays, and life in general have been calling. I am glad to be back!
The other day at work a colleague expressed some frustration with an issue she had been dealing with. She received an e-mail asking her if there was a “particular reason” she had done something. Exasperated, she said something like “Of course there is. I mean, there’s a particular reason for everything.” I found this extremely interesting because she is a self-described atheist. Not only that, she has a very strong educational background in philosophy.
This got me thinking that it sounded awfully like the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). Interestingly, in everyday conversations in which we do not know there to be theistic implications we tend to grant, almost as a prima facie truth, the PSR. This is what has led Alex Pruss to label the PSR as “self-evident” to anyone who understands it. Further, he contends a major reason for denying it is in the case of “fear that acceptance of the PSR will force one to accept various theological conclusions.” Surely, one must have a better reason to reject the PSR than his or her desire to avoid God.
This also allowed me to consider the question: “what is the reason that everything has a reason?” In her statement, my co-worker intended something like “for every state of affairs X there exists some reason or state of affairs explaining X.” She thought it to be plainly false that there are events or things that are simply inexplicable. So what could be the reason or state of affairs which explains the state of affairs of everything having a state of affairs which explains it?
It seems to me that one cannot always simply appeal to some other, further, explanation—at least not without being willing to accept an infinite regress. But since we know an infinite regress does not—indeed, cannot—explain the entire state of affairs such as we wish to do, it cannot be acceptable. Nor can the series of explanations run in a circle, with each part explaining some other part so that the whole state of affairs is explained. The reason is twofold.
First, suppose we wanted to know why a series of dominoes had fallen. It wouldn’t do any good to explain each domino’s falling in terms of some other domino’s striking it, for it simply doesn’t apply in the case of the initial domino. Suppose we could get simultaneous motion on the dominoes, however. We still do not understand why the entire state of affairs exists at all. That is just to say we do not have an explanation in the relevant sense. Second, the reason or state of affairs which explains the state of affairs of everything having a state of affairs which explains it is just not this type of thing that can be explained by its individual parts. It seems to be a self-evident truth of metaphysics, not a happenstance principle forced onto the universe by perception.
It seems to me the most plausible solution to the PSR’s truth is ultimately God. Why? Because the truth of the PSR is most plausibly an expression of logic and truth. Logic and truth are a part of reality. So we can use an argument to our advantage suggesting God is the sufficient reason for just anything and everything that does exist, or comports with reality/truth, including the PSR and its truth.
1. The PSR is true.
2. If the PSR is true and reality exists, then reality has its explanation either in its own necessity or another cause.
3. There is nothing real external to reality.
4. Reality exists.
5. Therefore, reality has its explanation in its own necessity.
6. At least some part of what is real could have failed to exist.
7. If some part of what is real could have failed to exist, that part is contingent.
8. Reality would be different were any parts of it different (explanation of possible worlds).
9. There could have been different realities (or possible worlds [analytically true]).
10. Therefore, the reality which now exists is not necessary (analytically true).
11. Therefore, reality does not find its explanation in its own necessity.
But now consider:
12. If God is a necessary being, then he is part of reality.
13. God is a necessary being.
14. Therefore, God is part of reality.
15. Therefore, reality finds its PSR in God (analytically true).
(2) is definitional, (3-4) are demanded of any serious thinker, and (5) is a conclusion. (7-8) are also definitional, and (9) is true if (6) is true, and the same goes with (10) as a consequence of (9). (11) results from (3) and (10), which of course makes (5) and (11) contradictory. (6) may be opposed by a “hardliner” who just wants to claim a modal collapse and that everything is necessary, but this is not a road well-travelled. (12-13) are definitional as a hypothesis, and (14) is the result if we grant these. But those engender (15), if the other foundational premises are true.
Therein lies the rub. The atheist/objector may cite (2) and insist, via modus tollens, that the PSR (1) is false. However, any attempt at reasoning that the PSR is false will rely on premises that are less obviously true than the PSR. Additionally, we have seen that even an atheist, when they are left with their intuitions and experiences, will believe strongly that the PSR is true. But if the PSR is true, the major explanation of the universe and reality is likely to be God.
 Alexander R Pruss, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment. (New York: Cambridge University, 2010), 14.
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