modal logic

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Scrooge, Molinism, and the “Grounding Objection”

`Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,’ said Scrooge, `answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?’ …`Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. `But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.’

…`They [the curtains on Scrooge’s bed] are not torn down.’ cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms,’ they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here — I am here — the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will.’-The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Such is Scrooge’s conclusion when he discovers that despite what he is shown about the future, he wakes up and discovers that he may change those ends. The story relies upon something which tends to be common in everyday language: the truths of counterfactuals. For example, Scrooge seems to conclude “If I change my course, then things will turn out differently.” Thomas Flint writes, “no one dismisses the story on the grounds that there simply are no such truths which ever could be revealed. The reason, I think, is that most people tacitly assume that there are such conditional truths” (Flint, 79, cited below).

It is therefore interesting that the most commonly cited philosophical objection to molinism is this very notion: that things can be true about what free beings will do in such-and-such circumstances. Most often the objection is put something like this: “What grounds the truths of these statements? If the creatures don’t exist yet, then how can there be anything to make such statements true?” I’ll be foregoing a lengthy philosophical defense of the position for now and instead focus on one rebuttal: Why suppose that such statements need to have a “truthmaker” or that they need to have a “grounding”?

What reason is there for supposing that “if a proposition is true, then something… causes it to be true…” (Alvin Plantinga quoted in Flint, 127)? Now Flint himself (and he says Plantinga follows) continues on beyond this to argue that there are in fact ways to ground such counterfactuals, but my own skepticism remains unconvinced. I’m not sure I understand the notion that propositions must have some grounds to make them true. It seems much more plausible to me that for any proposition, it is either true or false. Clearly, this is the case for many necessary truths. It is necessarily true that if something is pink it is colored. But does that mean that if nothing existed, this would not be true? Or would it follow that if no pink things existed, the statement would be meaningless? I’m not sure these things do follow, and so I remain highly skeptical of the notion that counterfactuals of freedom even need to be grounded to begin with. In any case, it seems to me highly questionable that they do.

It also seems extremely plausible to me to just accept my commonsense notion that the story of Scrooge just makes sense. If Scrooge had continued the life he had, then the things he was shown would have come about. Scrooge had a change of heart, so those things did not come about. But that doesn’t mean they would not have if he had not changed. The appeal to common sense is almost universally frowned upon in philosophy, but it seems like in this case there is little reason to doubt it.

Merry Christmas, all! I’ll resume posting after the day of the birth of our Savior!

Image  Credit: Robert Doucette



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The Ontological Argument: Question Begging?

Is the ontological argument question begging? Short answer: some versions yes, others, no. For the long answer, read on:

Many versions of the ontological argument appear to beg the question. The Anselmian version of the argument seems invalid, but there are other formulations of it which avoid its invalidity (cf. Maydole’s chapter on the Ontological Argument in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. Craig + Moreland, 553ff). Then, Alvin Plantinga came along and introduced the modal ontological argument, which relies on S5 modal logic. I have discussed Plantinga’s argument elsewhere, as well as demonstrated its validity.

Therefore, we will focus on a new considerations. Consider the following very simple version of the modal ontological argument:

1) Possibly, God necessarily exists

2) Therefore, God necessarily exists

The argument seems, at first face, to be a very strange argument. However, the argument does not beg the question when viewed through modal logic. 1) does follow from 2) in a non-tautological way, but 1) must be established.

Symbolically, the argument is written as the following (Take “T” to be “God exists”):

1) ◊□T

2) □T

S5 modal logic is based upon this very axiom. Namely, ◊□x⊃□x or  ◊□x iff □x (Hughes & Cressewell, A New Introduction to Modal Logic, 58). For in modal logic:

3) that which is “possible” exists in “some possible world.”

4) That which is necessary exists in all possible worlds

Therefore, if something is possibly necessary, then it must obtain in some possible world (3). however, if it is necessary, then it exists in all possible worlds (4). Therefore, if something is possibly (exists in some possible world) necessary (exists in all possible worlds), then it exists in all possible worlds.

Is this argument question begging? If it is, then it is not obviously so. Alexander Pruss has argued out that the argument is question begging only if it is directed at one who does not understand that 1) entails 2) (Pruss, The Principle of Sufficient Reason, 232). I’m not convinced that this is correct. Soundness of arguments don’t depend upon whether people understand them–they depend on whether they are valid or true.  However, it seems Pruss has an intuitive point here, in that even if this argument isn’t question begging, it appears to be.

How might the theist respond? Well, Pruss argues that if the theist argues for the establishment of S5, then it is no longer question begging (232). Alvin Plantinga does just that in God, Freedom, and Evil, as Pruss points out. We’ve already established elsewhere that Plantinga’s argument doesn’t beg the question regardless (see here), but this symbolic proof is bolstered by providing an argument for S5.

Then, it seems to be the case that if S5 modality is valid, God necessarily exists.

Are there versions of the ontological argument that resist this reduction to the “simplistic” version offered here? Yes, there are.  For example, Stephen Parrish’s ontological argument:

5) The concept of the GPB (Greatest Possible Being) is coherent (and thus broadly logically possible)

6) Necessarily, a being who is the GPB is necessarily existent, and would have (at least) omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection essentially.

7) If the concept of the GPB is coherent, then it exists in all possible worlds.

8 ) But if it exists in all possible worlds, then it exists in the actual world.

9) The GPB exists (Parrish, God and Necessity, 82)

This argument may initially seem to be susceptible to the same reduction, but it can avoid this reduction by lengthening it to:

10) the GPB is coherent (and logically possible)

11) the GPB’s coherence entails modal possibility

12) the GPB is necessary

13) modally, if something is possibly necessary, then it is necessary

14) the GPB exists necessarily

The key premise here is 10), because if it is true, then the rest of the argument follows necessarily. What reasons do we have for thinking 10) is true? Such a debate is beyond the scope of this post (good discussions can be found throughout theistic philosophy of religion–see, in particular, Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview and Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism; see also my brief discussion in the post on the argument here); but it seems to me that there is no incoherence in the concept. If that is the case, then I am justified in holding 14).

Therefore, it seems the modal ontological argument is not question begging, particularly if one argues first for the validity of S5 modality. Furthermore, there are other modal arguments which don’t rely on a reduction to a simple modal argument. For example, Parrish’s ontological argument relies instead upon the coherence of the GPB. Such arguments are successful if arguments against the GPB’s coherence are shown to be unsuccessful. In either case, God exists.

Ergo deus est.



Maydole, Robert E. “The Ontological Argument.” The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Edited William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland. Blackwell, 2009.

Parrish, Stephen E. God and Necessity. University Press of America. 1997.

Pruss, Alexander. The Principle of Sufficient Reason. Cambridge. 2006.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.



Book Review: Theism and Ultimate Explanation by Timothy O’Connor

Timothy O’Connor’s brief Theism and Ultimate Explanation has already garnered much discussion since its publication in 2008. Notably, the most recent edition of Philosophia Christi features a book symposium on the work. What is all the fuss about?

Theism and Ultimate Explanation is broken into two parts. Part I addresses “The Explanatory Role of Necessity” while Part II addresses “The Necessary Shape of Contingency.”

Part I contains some fantastic arguments. O’Connor outlines various views on modality and seeks to defend modal realism, which takes modal truths to be actual truths about our world (and other worlds). Further, he defends the possibility of a priori truths against attacks from those who argue that all such truths need to be established empirically.

There are some who argue that empirical evidence (such as quantum mechanics) helps to undermine belief in some methods of reasoning, such as the law of non-contradiction, but O’Connor counters this by pointing out that those who make the argument that the “odd” data which may seem to contradict the method of reasoning against which their argument is directed are using the very methods of reasoning which they are trying to undermine. Another possibility is that the empiricist making this claim has switched to a different method of reasoning in order to critique that which holds to things like the law of non-contradiction, but O’Connor points out that a critique from such a method is “underwhelming” at best (46).

In Part II, O’Connor argues that it is coherent to ask the question, “Why is there anything (contingent) at all?” (65). He further argues that the only possible answer to this question is a termination in a necessary being. “If the universe truly is contingent, the obtaining of certain fundamental facts or other will be unexplained within empirical theory, whatever the topological structure of contingent reality… it will have to ground in some way… in a necessary being, something which has the reason for its existence within its own nature” (76).

He then turns to the question of what the nature of that necessary being may be, by examining two possibilities: “chaos” and “logos“. Logos is the view which calls the necessary being God, whilst chaos argues that it is a random being or a brute fact. O’Connor argues that logos is the most rational view to hold.

Finally, in chapter 6, O’Connor turns to theological reflections on the argument thus far. He argues that the concept of an immutable, timeless being seems contradictory to things like the trinity, but maintains that a less restricted of both of these views is plausible. He argues against molinism briefly, by stating that the counterfactuals involved would have no truthmakers.

O’Connor’s book weighs in at about 144 pages of text, but he makes use of every word. My biggest complaint about the book is how short it is. Often, it seems as though O’Connor simply doesn’t take the time to address the issues he is discussing in enough detail. Part I and the argument for the necessary being do seem to be adequately established, but chapter 6 in particular doesn’t do justice to opposing views. For example, the molinist could respond to O’Connor’s argument by saying that the “truthmaker” of such counterfactuals is simply existence in the mind of God. This could lead to an argument for determinism on molinism, but then the molinist could point to the distinction between de re and de dicto necessity. The arguments leveled against a timeless deity or an immutable one suffer similarly from limitations of space. I think O’Connor should have used the space of this chapter to expand the other ideas already present in his work.

As it stands, Theism and Ultimate Explanation is a fantastic work which is great reading for the philosopher of religion. It can be finished in one sitting, but the ideas therein will keep readers contemplating the work for quite a while afterwards. It comes recommended, but with the stipulation that readers may be left wanting more.



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Omniscience, Necessity, and Human Freedom

I’m continually frustrated when the concept of freedom of the will comes up among people, even in Christian circles, because it seems that inevitably people start to deny that freedom of the will is incompatible with the God of Classical Theism. I am a firm believer in human freedom of the will and I believe it is fully compatible with omniscience. (Though I do not deny that our human will is corrupted by the fall into sin and that salvation is the act of God, not a work of man… These things are most certainly true.)

Generally the objection is something like this: If God knows everything and is all-powerful, then everything is pre-determined.

I still have not seen any solid argument for why this should be the case whatsoever. The key, as I understand it, is the connection between foreknowledge and causation.

I don’t see any reason to believe that if a being that is omnipotent and omniscient knows that x will happen, that being somehow causes or determines that x must happen. Why should this be the case? Simply knowing with certainty what will happen in the future does not somehow mean that this being has somehow made a causal link between its knowledge and the future, rather, it just means that this being knows what any other being is going to do.

What connection is there between knowledge of an event in the future and determining it? I’d like any kind of analytic argument to try to deny that human freedom and omniscience are compatible.

I’ve argued elsewhere that these concepts are compatible, and I’d like to make this point more clear now.

Take “P” to mean “God [in Classical Theism–i.e. omniscient, omnipotent, etc.] knows in advance that some event, x, will happen”

Take “Q” to mean “some event, x, will happen”

1. □(P⊃Q)

2. P

3. Therefore, Q

I wanted to draw it in symbolic logic to make my point as clear as possible. It is necessarily true that if God knows x will happen, then x will happen. But then if one takes these terms, God knowing x will happen only means that x will happen, not that x will happen necessarily. Certainly, God’s foreknowledge of an event means that that event will happen, but it does not mean that the event could not have happened otherwise. If an event happens necessarily, that means the event could not have happened otherwise, but God’s foreknowledge of an event doesn’t somehow transfer necessity to the event, it only means that the event will happen. It could have been otherwise, in which case, God’s knowledge would have been different. The problem many people make is that they try to make the syllogism:

1. □(P⊃Q)

2. P

3. Therefore, □Q

This is actually an invalid argument. The only thing that follows from □(P⊃Q) is that, “necessarily, if P then Q,” not “if P, then, necessarily Q.”

It is true that “necessarily, if God knows that some event, x, will happen, then some event, x, will happen”… but then it doesn’t follow from this that some event, x, happens necessarily. Thus, the event x is not predetermined simply by God’s foreknowledge of an event.

The objection is sometimes simply put forward as: Necessarily, God cannot error in his knowledge. If God knows some event x, will happen, then x will happen. Therefore, necessarily, x will happen.

Take P and Q as above

Take R to be “God cannot error in his knowledge”

1. □R

2. P⊃Q

3. Q

Again, this simply is an unsound and invalid argument. Simply stating that □R doesn’t show that for every event x that God knows, □x. It simply means that □R. R does not have a causal link to x (or Q above). It is true that □R on Classical Theism, but this does not mean that □Q or □P. There must be some argument to make P or Q necessary in order for there to be some kind of predetermined future, and I have no idea how an argument like that might go.There are ways that I can think of to formulate it, but it involves simply assuming that □R means that □P or □Q, so it would then be question-begging.

Perhaps I could take an example. Let’s say that I’m going to go to classes tomorrow (and I do hope I will, I don’t like missing classes!). God knows in advance that I’m going to go to classes tomorrow. His knowledge of this event means that it will happen, but it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t choose to stay in and sleep for a while, or play my new copy of Final Fantasy XIII, or do something more useless with my time. If I chose to, say, play Final Fantasy XIII (a strong temptation!), then God simply would have known that I would play FFXIII. His knowledge does not determine the outcome, His knowledge is simply of the outcome.

I’m open to hearing any analytic argument that manages to show how necessity can be transferred to events simply by God’s knowledge of them, but I’m skeptical as to the prospects of whether it can be done.

This argument can be seen in William Lane Craig’s writings like The Only Wise God and also in his podcast episodes on the doctrine of God.


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The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism

What does naturalism entail? This is largely a discussion of the ideas contained within the book World Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism by Michael C. Rea. An outline of his ideas comes first, followed by a look at a critique of his work.

Michael C. Rea has lofty goals for his book World Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism. He lays them out almost immediately: to show that naturalists are 1. committed to rejecting realism about material objects (RMO), 2. are forced to reject materialism,  and 3. cannot accept the reality of other minds (ROM) (Rea, 8).

Naturalism, according to Rea, is best understood as a research program. This he defines as: “a set of methodological dispositions” (Rea, 3). He argues that research programs cannot be accepted based on evidence, but can be discarded based on evidence. “[T]here is no method-neutral basis on which to assess the decision to adopt a particular research program” (Rea, 7). He pushes for acceptance of this view of naturalism as opposed to epistemological, metaphysical, etc. naturalism. While I believe that naturalism can certainly be viewed as a research program (using his definition), I think it is unclear from his arguments as to why exactly the other views of naturalism are to be rejected. Interestingly, however, it seems that Rea’s definition of research program manages to include these various types of naturalism.

Whether or not Rea is successful in his arguments to refocus naturalism as a research program, his arguments stand, as they are directed at this kind of “naturalism-at-large.”

It is important to note that a central concept that must be understood in order to discern Rea’s argument is that he is almost certainly attacking what seems to be most naturalists views that naturalism is unapproachable. Rea’s argument for viewing naturalism as a research method becomes stronger when taking this into account–for if naturalism is accepted without justification, it fits his definition of research program. He quotes Quine (who is extremely important in many fields of philosophy [such as logic], not just naturalism): “The proper answer to questions like ‘What justifies me in believing what I learn by way of scientific method?’ is simply ‘Do not ask that question'” (Rea, 44).

I believe that this stance should be, at the very least, uncomfortable for naturalists, or at least naturalists who attack theists for similar responses as to justification for belief in God, but that’s a whole different subject. I believe that, however, both cases need at least some kind of warrant or justification.

But let’s delve into the meat of World Without Design. Rea, as was said before, argues that naturalists are forced to ontologically give up RMO, ROM, and materialism. What grounds does he have for making these claims? I was initially quite skeptical. Obviously, I have every reason to rejoice in any attempts to undermine naturalism, but to claim that naturalism cannot even justify reality about material objects is, as I said, a lofty claim.

Rea cites The Discover Problem as the main reason naturalists are forced to these consequences. The Discovery Problem is “…just the fact that intrinsic modal properties seem to be undiscoverable by the methods of the natural sciences. Modal properties are properties involving necessities or possibilities for the objects that have them” (Rea, 77). It is this Problem that Rea continues to press against naturalists, and after analyzing his exhaustive arguments, I believe he succeeds.

The problem is that science can discover, at most, extrinsic modal properties, but not those that are intrinsic. Rea frames one of the problems that follows from the Discovery Problem as follows (paraphrased): one man owes another a debt. When the one to whom the debt is owed confronts the debtor about it, he argues that he is not the same person he was when the debt was incurred, for, after all, large amounts of the molecules in his body are no longer there, or have rearranged somehow, etc. The one owed the debt promptly punches him on the nose (Rea, 79ff).

But how is it that one can prove he is the same person? What makes it so that the matter can be said to be arranged “human-wise” instead of merely “collection-wise“? The answer is modal properties. The problem, however, is that in order to successfully point to the debtor as being the same person, one must use intrinsic modal properties, which are undetectable via scientific method, and, according to naturalism, must therefore be rejected.

I can’t type out the whole book here for a number of reasons, so I’ll highlight a few arguments:

“[I]t is possible for belief in material objects to be justified only if it is possible to have at least one justified M[odal]P[roperties] belief” (Rea, 83). This is because 1. one must be able to say this is a material object, 2. that belief can only be justified by beliefs in certain properties that are essential to the object (essential in the philosophical sense), and 3. these kinds of beliefs are MP beliefs (Rea, 83-84).

There are a number of ways naturalists have tried to get around this problem, but ultimately they can, at most, only grant extrinsic modal properties. In order to grant intrinsic modal values, on naturalism, “(a) we must observe it, (b) we posit its existence to explain our observations, or (c)we discover that our theorizing is simplified or otherwise significantly pragmatically enhanced by supposing that it exists” (Rea, 104). But modal properties are not observable, so only (b) or (c) are possibilities.

The possible solution (b) generally points to tying modal properties in with Proper Function. Proper Function is, generally, the belief that certain things that occupy a certain region have an objective function that they are supposed to perform. But even granting that empirical techniques can somehow claim this about anything, Proper Function can only grant extrinsic modal properties (such as saying that cat-arranged things have the proper function of “operating” as cats). The problem remains.

Solution (c) presents a pragmatic argument. Now setting aside some of the blatant flaws with pragmatism in general (i.e. the absurdity that, on pragmatism, it follows that if there are no people, there is no truth), this pragmatic consideration within naturalism doesn’t help in discovering intrinsic modal properties as it is completely unclear as to what pragmatic value there is in considering intrinsic modal properties on naturalism. Not only that, but Rea presents another valuable argument: “If, for example, it cannot be a truth that a thing x has a property p unless it is somehow useful or convenient for human beings to believe that x has p, then it is hard to see how x could have p in a world that does not include human beings.” [As I mentioned.] “So pragmatic theories of truth seem to imply (perhaps absurdly) that every property is extrinsic [ed: in that properties are assigned pragmatically]. hence, they also imply that modal and sortal properties are extrinsic. Thus they are incompatible with R[eality about]M[aterial]O[bjects]” (Rea, 146).

The Discovery Problem thus eliminates the possible of RMO, ROM, and materialism from the naturalist ontology. But these are things that naturalists will be extremely reluctant to eliminate. Rea follows with a discussion of intuitionism–which is another way naturalists might salvage RMO from the implications of naturalism, but the problem with intuitionism is that it is a version of idealism which eliminates RMO to begin with. I’m not going to go into the details of Rea’s argument here, as to do so would take quite a bit of extra space and I don’t think it is all that relevant to the current discussion.

I find Rea’s method quite sound, and his reasoning is certainly solid. Whether or not his book is successful (as I think it is), it certainly is thought-provoking. I expect many a naturalist will be forced to reconsider his or her position and attempt many a rejoinder to the arguments contained in World Without Design. One such rejoinder will be discussed next.

A critique of Rea’s work can be found here. The author (Troy Cross) was quite fair in his evaluation of Rea’s work, but I think the conclusions he drew weren’t quite spot on. For example:

“Rea’s ‘charitable’ proposal on naturalism’s behalf [that of it being a research program], by contrast, is to be avoided at all costs… Rea’s argument is not of the form: there are material objects, therefore, naturalism is false.”

But it is in Cross’ accusing Rea of being unnecessarily “charitable” that he seems to ignore one of the central arguments of the first chapters, which is an argument against naturalism as Cross seems to want to take it [though as I discussed above I am not entirely sure of its success]. Not only that, but while he states specifically what Rea’s argument is not (and I agree with him), he seems to ignore that if Rea has succeeded in his actual argument, then while naturalism may not be untrue or false on an epistemological level, naturalists are forced into some uncomfortable positions. In fact, I don’t really think that Rea is anywhere trying to prove naturalism is false, but only that naturalism forces us to give up much on an ontological level and that some of these beliefs seem basic to naturalism itself. It is in this way that many of Cross’s critiques fail. He seems to miss the general point of Rea’s book, which may perhaps be summed up in Rea’s own words:

“I think it is important to acknowledge that the theses I have said naturalists must give up are theses that many philosophers, naturalists in particular, will be very reluctant to give up.”


“We are told that if only we look in the right places we will find everything we want: realism about material objects, realism about other minds, materialism for those who want it, and much more. But when all the shells have been turned over, we find that we have been duped, and nothing is there.” (Rea, 170)

Further, Cross makes a rather bold statement by asserting, “Perception is a science-approved basic source of justification, and on a suitably robust notion, perception delivers real material objects, not merely sense data or mind-dependent objects.” Despite these claims, he offers no evidence to support it. It seems he missed the section on pragmatism, or at least chose to ignore it. In what way does naturalism, with its “science-approved” methodology somehow grant itself the assumption that perception is not mind based? How does his claim rule out idealism? He truly fails in this regard, and he falls victim to his own presuppositions.

Naturalists cannot seem to view their own worldview objectively at all (see Quine’s quote, above). Material objects are simply assumed based on perception and it is similarly assumed that materialism is true. And then it follows from these two assumptions that the mind is at the least supervenient on the physical. But this is nothing other than a circular argument. If any one of these three assumptions fails, then the circle is broken. And I don’t see any reason that all of these assumptions won’t fail. Not only that, but a circular argument is  a simple logical fallacy.

What grounds do naturalists have to accept such a statement as Cross makes? The assumption that perception somehow proves material objects flies in the face of competing metaphysical approaches such as idealism and certainly begs the question against them. And because of this, such a statement is, if not false, at least lacking any kind of epistemic value. It’s nothing but an assumption with no grounds (other than perhaps pragmatism) for accepting it. And if one would like to argue for such a view on pragmatic grounds, the arguments presented by Rea against pragmatism apply.

Naturalists seem to make these kinds of statements all the time. Whatever they say they simply grant because of either pragmatic concerns or some kind of circular argument. There is no reason to accept either of these reasons.

So Cross seems to miss the mark in a number of ways. He is attempting to argue against a point Rea didn’t make. When he argues that Rea fails to give epistemic reasons that naturalism is false, he is arguing against a straw man. Rea isn’t trying to do so to begin with. Rather, he is arguing that if naturalism is true, it forces those who want to accept it to give up many of the things that they may wish to take as truths–those things shown above, namely, ROM, RMO, and materialism. Not only that, but Cross fails to make any kind of argument for a naturalism that escapes Rea’s casting of it as a “research program.” Cross instead states “[Rea] succeeds in aiding and motivating the construction of naturalistic theories.” The problem is that the construction of those theories hasn’t happened. The current naturalism is fully subject to the arguments presented in World Without Design, and the consequences of naturalism are hard to swallow.

I should note, in closing, that the arguments I make above against Cross (particularly my statement that he is making assumptions and/or begging the question for naturalism) might be leveled against my own view of theism. It should be noted, however, that Rea himself addresses these issues briefly. But there are other reasons that such accusations don’t have merit, for theism doesn’t presuppose such things as dualism. There is a huge amount of literature dedicated to the mind-body problem that is readily accessible. Further, claims that God is the basis for intrinsic modal properties and/or intrinsic human worth have also been addressed in many formats by theists. Certainly, theists may make claims that grant certain underlying beliefs, but those beliefs themselves are building blocks that theists at least have arguments that at the least warrant, if not justify those beliefs (I can once again refer to dualism as a prime example). Naturalists have no such warrant. It is simply assumed that scientism or empiricism is the correct method (or argued on the basis of pragmatism), and that somehow this serves as a defeater for idealism, various theistic views, or other explanatory positions. But, as can be seen in Rea’s book and our brief discussion, these claims only lead us to a rejection of those things which naturalists hold most dear: material objects and materialism itself.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Book Review: The Nature of Necessity

Alright, I managed to finish another book this weekend. This is one I’ve been working through for months. Literally.

The Nature of Necessity by Alvin Plantinga is quite the philosophy book. In it, Plantinga tackles “The distinction between necessary and contingent truth (1)…” He distinguishes necessity de re and de dicto necessity. De dicto necessity he defines as “a matter of a proposition’s being necessarily true (v)” while de re necessity is “an object’s having a property essentially or necessarily.”

The first few chapters compose Plantinga’s argument for de re necessity by showing that such things can be shown in de dicto terms. It is quite an interesting section, and one in which I think Plantinga makes a strong case. Chapter IV I found particularly interesting, as Plantinga’s discussion here starts to turn to modal logic. The discussion of how we should define worlds, books (which I take to mean a list of propositions that belong to a given world), actuality, possibility, and the like. This discussion is extremely interesting and leads to some conclusions like “A possible world… is a possible state of affairs in the broadly logical sense… a state of affairs S is complete or maximal if for every state of affairs S’, S includes S’ or S precludes S’. And a possible world is simply a possible state of affairs that is maximal (45).”

But then, “Equally obviously [as that one state of affairs obtains], at most one obtains; for suppose two worlds W and W* are distinct worlds, there will be some state of affairs S such that W includes S and W* precludes S. But then if both W and W* are actual, S both obtains and does not obtain; and this, as they say, is repugnant to the intellect (45).”

These kinds of conclusions are to be found throughout The Nature of Necessity and it is this that makes the book such a good read. Plantinga’s descriptions of various states of affairs never fails to entertain, as his sense of humor is present at places throughout the book, while he still maintains his extremely rigorous treatment of the items at hand.

In later chapters (notably VI), Plantinga defends his version of necessity from alternatives, and in the process raises some objections to these alternatives. I’d write more of these out, but the fact of the matter is that the Nature of Necessity has that problem that I believe most books that are so heavy on analytic philosophy have: if one doesn’t read the whole, it is hard to understand any one part. This isn’t really a strike against the book, but is rather simply of note. The way that Plantinga builds on each previous point throughout the book helps give his case clarity.

Once Plantinga has gotten the bulk of the text out of the way, having made a strong case for necessity, he gets into how it is that these concepts apply to God, particularly the theistic God. The chapters about God and evil and God and necessity are largely recycled (or perhaps reworked) versions of his book God, Freedom, and Evil. As such, I didn’t spend a lot of time on these chapters, but in them Plantinga presents his case for the “Victorious Modal” version of the Ontological Argument. It is a version that I think has great potential, and has been the subject of some debate (see Graham Oppy, for instance… or the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology‘s treatment). Plantinga’s defense of theism from the problem of evil is equally impressive. I have written about it in the past, so I will not do so again, but I do think that Plantinga’s various arguments carry some weight and certainly merit discussion among apologists.

The Nature of Necessity closes with an appendix of some length (30 pages) about modal logic. Specifically, it is directed at answering objections (and more specifically, Quine’s objections) to modal logic. I believe that Plantinga does a fine job of taking on this task, and making a valid case for modal logic, but readers must be absolutely warned that a deep understanding of symbolic logic is required to even begin to approach the appendix. I recommend tackling some texts on logic before reading the appendix. As it was, I had to write out a list of the symbols being used in order to understand this section. It took me several days to get through the appendix alone. But once one does so, they will find that it is yet another rewarding section in an overall wonderful book.

The book weighs in at about 251 pages (including the appendix, but not including the preface), but the content that it includes is immense. Not only that, but the text itself is so heavy that a single page can often take minutes to work through and ponder. I recommend The Nature of Necessity to those who wish to explore, well, necessity and what it means further. It is by no means an easy work to read, and will require quite a bit of pondering and rereading, but in the end the payoff is worth it.

Scores (5 is truly average):

Quality of Arguments (if it applies): 10

Overall Content: 8

Difficulty: 9

Clarity: 9

Theology/Doctrine: N/A- other than theism, this doesn’t really have enough to judge the work based on Doctrinal or Theological stances

Value (price): 8- There’s a lot here, and I think it warrants the purchase price.

Relevance: 6- I don’t know how much use I’ll get out of the book as an apologetic work. Plantinga’s God, Freedom, and Evil may be more useful in this regard, but that doesn’t really take away from how much I liked the book

Review Criteria:

The Quality of arguments is just what it says. Obviously this is subjective. Do I think the arguments presented in the book (if there are any) are valid and/or useful?

Overall Content is a general judge of how good I felt the book is.

Difficulty is the amount of work it takes to get through the work. Higher values don’t necessarily mean the book is better, just more difficult to read.

Clarity simply outlines how clear I believe the author was.

Theology/Doctrine is my judgment, clearly based on my presuppositions, of how good I felt the author’s theological or doctrinal content was (if there is any).

Value is a determination of whether I believe the book is worth the asking price.

Relevance outlines whether I think the book has real-life applications. A low score in this doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad, just that I believe there may not be much to use. In other words, a book could score low on this criterium, but I might still find it quite good.

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