On Explaining Existence
We must first state that the logocentric predicament is the first issue of philosophy, but let us suppose logic has been warranted, that the logocentric predicament is no longer a predicament. What is next? Well, if there is a claim about anything then the question of “Is there something or nothing?” comes into view. It seems that the solutions between the logocentric predicament and the question of if there is something or nothing, we will call this “the riddle of existence” as Nicholas Rescher does in On Explaining Existence, are not compatible, for “[g]etting real existents from pure logic is just too much of a conjuring trick. That sort of hat cannot contain rabbits” (Rescher 3). Nevertheless, what can be taken from pure general logic is other logics, and then what we generally consider logic, therefore allowing for this analysis.
And indeed every question involves some presupposition — viz. That there indeed is an answer to it. (Rescher 7)
Quick note, constructing the justification of something as the theoretical primitive is going to be more difficult than building the Tower of Babel because we will be going beyond God. But, I digress.
In order to answer the riddle of existence, we must abandon causality. A preexisting thing cannot be the cause of existence; existence cannot be the effect of that which it contains. Rescher then opts to not explain existence in terms of something, but rather in some principle, namely hylarchic principles. Is there another option though? Maybe…
In order to explain existence, we must understand what it is. Now, Rescher sees existence as “consisting of all those things that have their ontological foothold in the real-world realm of space and time” (Rescher 34). I think this understanding of existence works fine, but it means that existence is not reality for Rescher because things elude the manifold of existence. For example, “things of thought” are for Rescher “projected into being (but not existence) by the mind-operations of intelligent beings” (Rescher 34). Of course, this means the manifold of thought as we will call is dependent on the manifold of existence in that those thoughts necessitate an existing thinker. But, there is then the manifold of possibility which is divided into two: the manifold of mere possibility and the manifold of real possibility. Rescher says, “the manifold of mere possibility comprising all possibilities can coherently be articulated on logico-conceptual principles, the manifold of real possibility comprising the pre (sub-, or proto-)existential possibilities that subsist independently of the mental operations of existing beings” (Rescher 34). Thus, we now understand exactly what Rescher means by his assertion that existence and reality are not the same: I actually made this distinction myself several months ago, the real could be nothing, the real does not have to be existence (i.e., something). So, possibility is real, just as nothing possibly could be real, but not existent in the sense that it is not its own ontology.
Rescher says, “the overall domain of reality transcends the physical realm of space and time to encompass also a manifold of real (rather than merely imaginable) possibility” (35). So, thus far, what presuppositions do we have? It seems we have supposed the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), which holds that all propositions and ontologies need explanations and grounding (whether that be causal or something else). It also seems we have supposed logic, of course! But, diverging from a tendency in Hanna’s work, we have supposed no ontologies. We have supposed that we can know anything, but then again if we have supposed no ontologies then we do not have this presupposition, for this issue only arises once existence does. We have supposed nothing in relation to ethics (except, because we supposed logic, the normativity of logic). We have not supposed the existence of possibility. Rather, we have supposed the reality of possibility, or rather, we have supposed that some of possibility (as there is also mere possibility) is real. How do we prove such a thing? We do not, because, here, the PSR does not apply here: “The manifold of possibility requires no originative explanation. These possibilities are not somehow engendered: they are simply there … they are not existential status. It makes no more sense to ask how they are to be then to ask this about numbers … We can ask about the location of possibilities no more than we can ask about the location of justice” (Rescher 36). How is there a number one, 1? We are not claiming that 1 exists, but is real, just like unicorns don’t exist, but are real. It is about the logico-conceptual possibilities that we are speaking about here, do not forget that.
By nomic, Rescher is referring to nomology which is the science of laws. I like this explanatory distinction Rescher makes: “the distinction between the ‘scientific’ or physical laws OF nature and the supra- or proto-physical laws FOR nature become graphically explicit” (Rescher 37). What we can recognize, though, is the movement through possibilities which actually existent things much come from. “But how might the existence of things possibly arise through the operation of laws and principles that function wholly outside the existential arena” (Rescher 37)? Well, let us get more into the theory of possibility that Rescher puts forward to answer this question. What we can see is “the move from mere possibility to actual existence is mediated by a series of hylarchic principles lawful order that provide for ever more stringent of existential requirements. Such principles are pre-existential in that they are preliminarily determinative for rather than consequently following from the actual constitution of existing things” (Rescher 38). Hylarchic principles then, first, demarcate the real division between real possibilities and mere possibilities. The hylarchic principle that does this is the set of the laws of logic, therefore, Rescher’s entire project, unsurprisingly, falls into the logocentric predicament, but at the same time, also refutes his earlier claim that the move from pure logic to actual existence is arduous. If we were to ever solve the logocentric predicament, it seems we would immediately go to Rescher for metaphysics. As one keeps going through the manifold of possibility, more restrictions come into play, more things are recognized as not really possible but only merely possible. While these principles can be asked to have logico-conceptual grounding, it seems that all of the hylarchic principles follow from the laws of logic, so again, the only issue of grounding is the logocentric predicament. Now, the reason this ever-growing restriction on what is really possible is induced by these hylarchic principles is simple: “hylarchic principles set the possibility-restricting conditions that ultimately narrow the range of eligible cases down to one single outcome” (Rescher 38). Hylarchic principles “should be understood as laying down conditions of real possibility, ruling certain theoretical (logical) possibilities out as outside the realm of realizability” (Rescher 38). The method by which possibilities are restricted and demarcated as real or unreal is logic, as I have already stated. “For any feature that all the ‘really possible’ worlds have is a feature that the existing world ‘has to’ have — that it must necessarily have (in the ‘real’ mode of necessity)” (Rescher 39). This latter principle is a hylarchic principle, a proto-law: if something is a feature of all the really possible worlds then the actually existing world has to have that feature. So, some things which are not a feature of all the really possible worlds have just now, through this latter hylarchic principle, been thrown out of the real into the manifold of mere possibility. If you have not understood hylarchic principles yet, I will quote Rescher one last time, where he is extremely clear: “[hylarchic principles] can thus be thought of as principles of possibility-foreclosure. They represent constraints which simply exclude certain theoretically conceivable possibilities from the domain of real possibility” (Rescher 39). Now, because of modus ponens — again, the laws of logic is the method of possibility-foreclosure — we could conclude that if X is not only a real possibility but also actually existent and X has necessary conditions for its existence called Y, without which it would not be possible for it to exist, then if X is really possible then Y is really possible and if X is actually existent then Y is really possible. Hylarchic principles are also, therefore, “the preconditions to which something must conform if it is to come into existence at all” (Rescher 40). For example, if Z would preclude the possibility of Y, but X is really possible, then Z does not meet the precondition set by that hylarchic principle which determined that X is really possible. Laws and principles are not derived from what actually exists, rather it is the other way around, what actually exists is “derived” from laws and principles. Therefore, and this is obvious, there is no natural law of gravity, for example, without the laws of logic, for things that people see falling “due to” gravity, without a principle of minimal or total non-contradiction, could be said to be going up. In this sense, it is out of “the primal logos” (logic, per my interpretation of what Rescher is saying here), out of “a pre-existential realm of proto-existence,” that “existence proper emerges by a process of selective elimination” (Rescher 40). On any accusation of presupposition, Rescher says,
These nomic principles that define the problems of the realm of the possible need not have an existential footing — an ontological basis in some preexisting thing or collection of things. They need not — nay, must not — be hypostatized into features of things or into causal products of the operations of things. Our theory contemplates a mode of “being” independent of and prior to the existence of “things” hypostatized nomic field which fixes the structure of possibility. (Rescher 41)
Thus, without any presuppositions (except supposing logic) , the field of possibility sits, transfixed on that next movement of existential actualization. “In resorting to a hylarchic principle one can thus abandon altogether the hoary dogma that things can only come from things” (Rescher 43). That there must be something rather than nothing can be extricated from the fact that the real cannot be empty, i.e., without reality. Or, in other words, in every real possible world there is a world. There is something rather than nothing, for all those worlds which are not really possible are those which have no worlds. Now, while I find this argument to be unconvincing and weak, Rescher does argue a somewhat better point: “The overall explanation of existence is thus fundamentally nomological. It pivots on the consideration that the proto-laws require the existence of things — that they are in themselves such as to constrain an existential world” (Rescher 45). One could argue that this is quite the weird “absolute” necessity argument in that that which is not dependent on any ontology, the proto-laws, requires at least one ontology. This actually seems to be the point where Rescher’s argument becomes quite unstable. Furthermore, it seems we never leave the manifold of mere possibility whose regulating law is logic, surprise, surprise. Could one not argue that whatever the solution to the logocentric predicament may be, its implications will allow for that movement not only from mere possibility to real possibility but also from real possibility to existential actualization? It seems that whatever the solution to the logocentric predicament is going to have massive metaphysical implications thanks to our main man Nicholas Rescher, as he pointed out the possibility, ironically, of a metaphysics not dependent on an ontology!
: A certain rejection already comes to mind: are there not infinite possible things? One could argue not, for if existence is finite, then no; but, if existence is infinite, then could the hylarchic principles actual narrow the range of possible actual existents down to one in a certain case?
: In regards to the Principle of Sufficient Reason — it is clearly the case, for if it is not the case then that means things do not necessarily require (sufficient) reasons for why they are the case — therefore, if things do not require sufficient reasons for why they are the case, could anything not follow from anything — this is the non-logical pluralist position — and if so, is logic not, therefore, that which grounds the Principle of Sufficient Reason? If the latter is the case, if the Principle of Sufficient Reason is a derivative principle from non-contradiction terminally (by terminally, here, I mean in the sense that the endpoint of abandoning PSR is non-logical pluralism which PNC prevents), then grounding logic is the only real predicament, we’ve come to this conclusion too many times to count!
: Personally, I think this argument coming from Rescher is incredibly weak — the appeal to the word “world” as a semantic basis for an ontology is simply unfounded. But, Rescher makes a better argument which I go over in the sentence after this footnote!