Metaphysics: Part Two: Why The World Is - Introduction
Van Inwagen (Peter)
Source: Van Inwagen (Peter) - Metaphysics
Paper - Abstract

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  1. This section deals with the issue of why there is something rather than nothing, and offers two arguments – the ontological and the cosmological – which (on the face of it) are arguments for the existence of God rather than answers to the question before us.
  2. We can’t use the anthropic principle – that the question is illegitimate because if the World didn’t exist we wouldn’t be here to ask such questions – because questions about the origin of the solar system, or of the human race are legitimate despite the fact that we wouldn’t be here if they weren’t. But I can’t see why anyone would try that line of argument.
  3. PvI admits that the question isn’t quite the same as – for instance – why the sun has planets or why there is life on earth. The latter questions deal with transforming one lot of stuff into another, and we know how to address these questions, but before there was a World there was – presumably – nothing. And it’s not clear that “before” makes sense in that context either.
  4. Also, “Nothing” is not a name for anything. We’re not to imagine “Nothing” as an empty expanse.
  5. PvI also says we’re not to imagine non-existent things interacting to produces existent things (by some sort of weak analogy with the pre-biotic soup producing life). There are no non-existent things. PvI states that ‘unicorn’ is not the name of a non-existent thing. I probably agree (see my Note1 on Fiction2).
  6. PvI asserts that it’s only under the influence of philosophy that religions have speculated on our question, providing answers either profound or silly. He won’t go into whether “what our culture calls” Creation Myths really were attempts to explain why there is something rather than nothing, but he is doubtful. He makes up one silly story, which doesn’t actually start from “Nothing”. He then quotes a Samoan3 account and the Genesis account. But they all seem to start with something – albeit “formless and empty” and God working on it; so, they don’t start with Nothing.
  7. Religions may have something to say on our question that goes beyond their creation stories, but only because they’ve absorbed philosophical speculation from their cultures.
  8. PvI asserts that the three Abrahamic religions are indebted to the Greeks for their speculation on the question before us, and claims that the work in this area by religious philosophers is independent of their specific religious commitments. He also asserts that the key to any putative answer is the concept of “a necessary being”.
  9. This may be so, in that necessary being is required to stop a vicious infinite regress; but I have a couple of concerns, which are somewhat related:-
    1. “Necessary being” is distinct from “A necessary being”. The latter implies individuality and distinction from everything else, already a confusion in this context. It’s easy to illicitly slip in a personal being via this route. It might be that an impersonal necessary ground of all being might be the end result of our cogitations.
    2. There’s no reason why such a necessary being should be identified with the Abrahamic God.


Part Two: Why The World Is

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 3:

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021

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