Why anything? Why this?
Parfit (Derek)
Source: Crane and Farkas - Metaphysics - a guide and anthology, 2004, pp. 12-30
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction to Part 1

  1. Why does the Universe exist? There are two questions here.
    1. First, why is there a Universe at all? It might have been true that nothing ever existed: no living beings, no stars, no atoms, not even space or time. When we think about this possibility, it can seem astonishing that anything exists.
    2. Second, why does this Universe exist? Things might have been, in countless ways, different. So why is the Universe as it is?
  2. These questions, some believe, may have causal answers. Suppose first that the Universe has always existed. Some believe that, if all events were caused by earlier events, everything would be explained. That, however, is not so. Even an infinite series of events cannot explain itself. We could ask why this series occurred, rather than some other series, or no series. Of the supporters of the Steady State Theory, some welcomed what they took to be this theory’s atheistic implications. They assumed that, if the Universe had no beginning, there would be nothing for a Creator to explain. But there would still be an eternal Universe to explain.

Author’s Introduction to Part 2
  1. In the first half of this essay, I suggested how reality’s deepest features might be partly explained. Of the countless cosmic possibilities, or ways that reality might be, a few have very special features. If such a possibility obtained, that might be no coincidence. Reality might be this way because this way had this feature.
  2. Thus, if nothing had ever existed, that might have been true because it was the simplest way for reality to be. And if reality is maximal, because all possible local worlds exist, this may be true because it is the fullest way for reality to be. The highest law may be that being possible, and part of the fullest way reality might be, is sufficient for being actual.

Author’s Conclusion to Part 2
  1. The Brute Fact View, I have argued, is not necessary, and may not be true. There may be one or more Selectors between the ways that reality might be, and one or more Selectors between such Selectors. But, as I have also claimed, it may be a necessary truth that it be a brute fact whether there are such Selectors, and, if so, which the highest Selector is.
  2. If that is a necessary truth, similar remarks apply. On these assumptions, there would again be nothing that was deeply puzzling. If it is necessary that, of these explanatory possibilities, one merely happens to obtain, there would be no explanation of why the one that obtains obtains. But, as before, that would be no more mysterious than the random movement of some particle.
  3. The existence of the Universe can seem, in another way, astonishing. Even if it is not baffling that reality was made to be some way, since there is no conceivable alternative, it can seem baffling that the selection went as it did. Why is there a Universe at all? Why doesn’t reality take its simplest and least arbitrary form: that in which nothing ever exists?
  4. If we find this astonishing, we are assuming that these features should be the Selectors: that reality should be as simple and unarbitrary as it could be. That assumption has, I believe, great plausibility. But, just as the simplest cosmic possibility is that nothing ever exists, the simplest explanatory possibility is that there is no Selector. So we should not expect simplicity at both the factual and explanatory levels. If there is no Selector, we should not expect that there would also be no Universe. That would be an extreme coincidence.


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