Monday, August 6, 2012

Necessity and Concreteness

Speaking of 'necessity', here is an interactive survey to see if you have some beliefs or intuitions that bear on the question of necessary concreta: The survey showcases arguments relevant to the question, some of which are relatively unknown--and so may be of special interest to metaphysicians who care about this question. Your answers will be recorded for further analysis. Comments and criticisms are welcome.

The topic bears on this question: are necessary existence and concreteness compatible? If we say "no", then we can give the following simple criterion for being concrete: 'x is concrete iff x is not necessary' (unless non-necessary abstracta exist). On the other hand, if concreteness is compatible with necessary existence, then the possibility is open for us to give an ultimate explanation of the existence of non-necessary things in terms of the contingent activities of more basic, necessary things (be they fundamental particles or something else). So, answers to the question seem to have deep implications for fundamental ontology and cosmology.


  1. I found the definition of cause very puzzling. If a cause is something that can explain, to who? If a possible cause is something that could be considered an explanation by a possible being, the variety of possible beings seems to make the range of possible causes extraordinarily diverse, such that it is hard to see how we could draw any reasonably conclusions about it.

    I also considered applying my own (vaguely Humean/Lewisian) intuitions about what causes are, but that also didn't seem to provide very many clear answers.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I was thinking explanations could hold even if there's no one around to know about them. But it may be good for me to leave open other minimal conditions on causation. Humean/Lewisian is fine.

  3. In discussing the personal identity it is almost necessary to assume that we do have identities that endure over time and seek to explain that, so the idea of of necessary existance could be confusing looking at the idea with Hume's bundle theory.

    According to David Hume, the idea of object is an illusion only beholding by properties. I agree I couldn't come up with a rationale or defensable argument.

    1. Can you elaborate any? I admit that I have some inclination to think that any concessions to non-Humeanism do tend to pull one toward extreme theses like necessary existence and classical essences and substances (though I tend to see that as cause to be austerely Humean, rather than as constituting any reason to revive classical metaphysical views), so I would not be surprised if you could draw some important connection between necessary existence and traditional notions of personal identity, but I'd like to see the details of how that connection is supposed to work.

  4. I did the survey and I think I understand the concepts, but a real example might exist in the Big Bang, referred to in examples in the survey. A concrete real thing (the totality of matter) might change in total, uniformly, from a contracted state to an expanded one at the Big Bang.

    If the prexisting contracted state existed as such permanently as a dormant state of matter with the potential to change (like particles such as neutrons have potentials to decay to a statistical mean), there would be a necessary thing (the contracted state) and a contingent thing (the expanded state).

    If the change were by a more complex automatic mechanism than simple unpredictable but statistical neutron decay, it might exist permanently with an equal or lesser chance of random change, and then change (or not). Reality causing contingency, but statistically & randomly. The chance of change could not be greater than staying contracted, or the contracted state could not have existed permanently.

    This would be a mechanism built into matter in its contracted state, uncaused, in a permanently existing state with the potential to uniformly release energy (being a contracted state of mass with abundant energy to the equation from Enistein). Being our starting point, that state of dormancy need not have been created (which would be impossible, as it is in a perfect state of order).

  5. Nice thoughts, Marcus. Not sure why you led into them with "but".

  6. Great survey! Very interesting idea.

    I think it might be interesting for the results to note any inconsistencies in one's reported answers. The obvious is where one answers "no" to whether they think a necessary being exists, and then goes on to give answers that imply/(entail) that a necessary being exists.

    Also, after the survey is taken by an individual, it might be helpful for the individual to have the option of seeing a list of the questions asked and answers given.

  7. Question: In the modal realism of David Lewis, it is necessary that the universe as a whole should exist; it is not possible for there to be nothing (and the view of Lewis is not unique in this respect). I am curious as to whether this would make the universe as a whole a necessary being by the present standards. This would require that the universe as a whole be capable of being the cause of something, and it would also require that we be able to speak of two possible universes, no matter how different, as two possible versions of the same being. At least, those are the two requirements that strike me as not obviously satisfied; there may be other issues I'm not seeing.