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Necessary Existents

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2010

Extract

It seems obvious that I could have failed to exist. My parents could easily never have met, in which case I should never have been conceived and born. The like applies to everyone. More generally, it seems plausible that whatever exists in space and time could have failed to exist. Events could have taken an utterly different course. Our existence, like most other aspects of our lives, appears frighteningly contingent. It is therefore surprising that there is a proof of my necessary existence, a proof that generalizes to everything what-soever. I will explain the proof and discuss what to make of it. A first reaction is that a ‘proof’ of such an outrageous conclusion must contain some dreadful fallacy. Yet the proof does not collapse under scrutiny. Further reflection suggests that, suitably interpreted, it may be sound. So interpreted, the conclusion is not outrageous, although it may not be the view you first thought of.

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Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2002

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References

1 The argument reworks for another purpose material from Prior, A. N., Past, Present and Future (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 149151CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Fine's, Kit ‘Postscript’ to Prior, A. N. and Fine, K., Worlds, Times and Selves (London: Duckworth, 1977), 149150Google Scholar, and his ‘Plantinga on the Reduction of Possibilist Discourse’, Alvin Plantinga, Tomberlin, J. E. and van Inwagen, P. (eds) (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1985), 160180CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Plantinga, A., ‘On Existentialism’, Philosophical Studies 44 (1983), 910CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and ‘Reply to Kit Fine’, Alvin Plantinga, op. cit., 341–349. My interest in the argument was aroused by the work of my pupil, David Efird.

2 In his defence of the unnecessitated principle, Paul Horwich suggests that the necessitated version might be derivable from the assumption that the unnecessitated version is explanatorily fundamental: Tritj, 2nd ed., (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 21Google Scholar.

3 Fine makes a similar distinction between outer and inner truth, ‘Plantinga on the Reduction of Possibilist Discourse’, op. cit., 163.

4 Lewis, D. K., On the Plurality of Worlds (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986)Google Scholar.

5 Kaplan, D., ‘Demonstratives: An Essay on the Semantic, Logic, Metaphysics, and Epistemology of Demonstratives and Other Indexicals’, Themes from Kaplan, J., Almong, J., Perry and H., Wettstein (eds) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989)Google Scholar.

6 Even the description ‘the producer of this utterance’ conttains the demonstrative ‘the utterance’, which is not purely descriptive, but ‘I’ does not refer to the utterance.

7 For a defence of unrestricted quantification see myExistence and Contingency’, Aristotelian Society 100 (2000), 117139CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 The underlying assumption is that since I am concrete, it is necessarily possible that I am concrete (so even if I had not been concrete it would still have been the case that I could have been concrete). This is an instance of the so-called Brouwerian principle p⊃ □ ◊p in modal logic, which is plausible when □ and ◊ stand respectively for metaphysical necessity and metaphysical possibility. The principle corresponds to the symmetry of the accessibility relation in possible worlds semantics. It is a theorem of the attractively simple modal system S5, a good candidate for the logic of those notions, but also of much weaker systems without the S4 principle □ P ⊃ □□ P, which corresponds to the transitivity of accessibility.

9 If the objects of perception are not all physical then the objection willl need to be stated with more care, but that is the objector's problem.

10 On the necessity of identity and distinctness see my ‘The Necessity and Determinacy of Distinctness’, Essays for David Wiggins: Identity Truth and Value, Lovibond, S. and Williams, S. (eds) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996)Google Scholar.

11 The reasoning again depends on the Brouwerian principle.

12 The view defended in this paper is put forward in my ‘Necessary Identity and Necessary Existence’, Wittgenstein—Towards a Re-evaluation: Proceedings of the 14th International Wittgenstein-Symposium, vol. 1, Haller, R. and Brandl, J. (eds) (Vienna: Holder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and elaborated and given further support in my Bare Possibilia’, Erkenntnis 48 (1998), 257273CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and The Necessary Framework of Objects’, Topoi 19 (2000), 201208CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a somewhat similar view see Linsky, B. and Zalta, E., ‘In Defense of the Simplest Quantified Modal Logic’, Philosophical Perspectives 8: Logic and Language, Tomberlin, J. (ed.) (Atascadero: Ridgeview, 1994)Google Scholar and ‘In Defense of the Contingently Nonconcrete’, Philosophical Studies 84 (1996): 283294CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 If the rejection of propositions nevertheless permitted some way of simulating them, the argument for necessary existence might still be simulated by a sound argument to the same conclusion. For example, quantification over propositions might be simulated by nonsubstitutional quantification into sentence position; for the latter see my Truthmakers and the converse Barcan formula’, Dialectica 53 (1999), 253270Google Scholar.

14 Thanks to audiences in Oxford and at the Royal Institute of Philosophy for comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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