Tag Archives: why anything?

Robert Nozick

One might hold that nothingness as a natural state is derivative from a very powerful force toward nothingness, one any other forces have to overcome. Imagine this force as a vacuum force, sucking things into nonexistence or keeping them there. If this force acts upon itself, it sucks nothingness into nothingness, producing something or, perhaps, everything, every possibility.

Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 123

Tyler Cowen

Milton Friedman used to argue that there is no such thing as a free lunch but at some level of the analysis this has to be false. The universe exists and who had to pay for it?

Tyler Cowen, Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, 2017, p. 14

Paul Edwards

It is maintained that a question does not make sense unless the questioner knows what kind of answer he is looking for. However, while the fact that the questioner knows the “outline” of the answer may be a strong or even conclusive reason for supposing that the question is meaningful, the converse does not hold. One can think of examples in which a question is meaningful although the person asking it did not know what a possible answer would look like. Thus somebody might ask “What is the meaning of life?” without being able to tell us what kind of answer would be relevant and at a later time, after falling in love for the first time, he might exclaim that he now had the answer to his question.

Paul Edwards, Why?, in Paul Edwards (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, New York: Macmillan, 1967, vol. 8

William Lane Craig & James Sinclair

Although G. W. F. Leibniz’s question, Why is there (tenselessly) something rather than nothing, should still rightly be asked, there would be no reason to look for a cause of the universe’s beginning to exist, since on tenseless theories of time the universe did not begin to exist in virtue of its having a first event anymore than a meter stick begins to exist in virtue of having a first centimeter.

William Lane Craig & James Sinclair, ‘The kalam Cosmological Argument’, in William Lane Craig & J. P. Moreland (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Malden, Massachusetts, p. 184

John Post

[B]elief in a “God-of-the-gaps” is vulnerable to scientific advances that close the gaps. Among the gaps on which theists once relied, and on which many still rely, is the presumed inability of the sciences to explain the origin of the human species or of life or the Earth or our solar system. These gaps have not been largely closed. The ultimate gap, for many theists, concerns the origin of the universe; even if the other gaps are closed, that one can never be. But we have just been seeing how it too might be closed.

John Post, Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, New York, 1991, p. 90

John Post

[I]f PSR [the principle of sufficient reason] is wrong and there are uncaused events, what happens to the imperative to seek causes? Should scientists and others now stop looking for them? Not at all. To seek causes does not commit us to believing there must always be a cause for us to find, no more than seeking gold commits us to supposing there will always be gold where we hope to find it. Often there will not be. On such occasions the better part of wisdom is to admit it and look elsewhere. Science does not presuppose PSR, even though science is an enterprise dedicated in large part to seeking causes.

John Post, Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, New York, 1991, pp. 66-67

Bryan Magee

It was astounding that anything existed at all. Why wasn’t there nothing? By all the normal rules of expectation—the least unlikely state of affairs, the most economical solution to all possible problems, the simplest explanation–nothing is what you would have expected there to be. But such was not the case, self-evidently. And yet although it was impossible to know what there was, and therefore impossible to say what it was, and perhaps therefore even impossible to assert that there was anything, something was unquestionably going on. Yet how could anything be going on? In what medium? Nothingness? Impossible to conceive: and yet undeniably something was happening.

Although more and more given to talk and discussion and argument as I grew older, for several years I never encountered anyone who felt the same fascination as I did with these questions. By the time I had grown into adulthood I had become familiar with a number of general attitudes to experience that seemed to embrace among themselves most people, at least most of those I met, but none of them was at all like mine. There seemed to be three main groupings. First, there were people who took the world for granted as they found it: that’s how things are, and it’s obvious that that’s how they are, and talking about it isn’t going to change it, so there’s no purpose that perpetually questioning it is going to serve; discussing it is really a waste of time, even thinking about it much is a waste of time; what we have to do is get on with the practical business of living, not indulge in a lot of useless speculation and ineffectual talk That seemed to be roughly the outlook of most people. Then there were others who regarded that attitude as superficial, on religious grounds. According to them, this life was no more than an overture, a prelude to the real thing. There was a God who had made this world, including us, and had given us immortal souls, so that when our bodies died after a brief sojourn on earth the souls in them would go on for ever in some “higher” realm. Such people tended to think that in the eye of eternity this present world of ours was not all that important, and whenever one raised questions about the self-contradictory nature of our experience they would shrug their shoulders and attribute this to the inscrutable workings of a God. It was not that they used this as the answer to all questions, because what such people said seldom answered any actual questions: they felt under no pressure to do so. God knew al the answers to all the questions, and his nature was inscrutable to us, therefore the only thing for us to do was to put our trust in him and stop bothering ourselves with questions to which we could not possibly know the answers until after we died. It seemed to me that this attitude was at bottom as incurious as the first; it just offered a different reason for not asking questions; and equally obviously it did not really feel the problems. There was no awareness in it of the real extraordinariness of the world: on the contrary, people who subscribed to it were often marked by a certain complacency, not to say smugness. They seemed to be happily lulling themselves to sleep with a story which might or might not be true but which they had no serious grounds for believing.

Finally, there were people who condemned both of these other sets of attitudes as uncomprehending and mistaken, on what one might call rationalistic grounds. They critically questioned both the ways things are and traditional religious beliefs, and challenged the adherents of either for proof, or at least good evidence; for some justification, or at least good argument. These tended in spirit to be either children of the enlightenment or children of the age of science, and in either case to have a kind of outlook that did not begin to exist until the seventeenth century. They seemed to believe that everything was explicable in the light of reason, that rational enquiry would eventually make all desirable discoveries, and that in principle if not altogether in practice all problems could be solved by the application of rationality. Most of my friends and fellow spirits seemed to fall into this third category, and indeed I tended to agree with their criticisms of the other two. My problem was that their own positive beliefs seemed to me manifestly untenable, and their attitudes—well, perhaps not quite as comfortable and complacent as those they criticized, but comfortable and complacent none the less. They seemed to think that the world was an intelligible place, and I did not see how in the light of a moment’s thought this belief could be entertained. […] What cut me off most deeply of all from this attitude, and what I also found hardest to understand about it, was its lack of any sense of the amazingness of our existence, indeed of the existence of anything at all-the sheer miraculousness of everything.

Bryan Magee, Confessions of a Philosopher: A Personal Journey Through Western Philosophy from Plato to Popper, London, 1997, pp. 13-15

J. J. C. Smart

That anything should exist at all does seem to me a matter for the deepest awe. But whether other people feel this sort of awe, and whether they or I ought to is another question. I think we ought to.

J. J. C. Smart, ‘The Existence of God’, Church Quarterly Review, vol. 156, no. 319 (April-June, 1955), p. 194

Stephen Grover

We know that the Null Possibility does not obtain, but the fact that it is a possibility deprives us of our best opportunity for claiming that the Maximal Possibility obtains instead. Because there could have been nothing we have little reason to believe that there is everything. Instead, there is just something.

Stephen Grover, ‘Cosmological Fecundity’, Inquiry, vol. 41, no. 3 (September, 1998), p. 295

John Leslie

We do not want our theories to tell us that what we see is surprising in the last analysis, i.e., surprising even when every explanation has been found; for that would just show that our theories are probably wrong. Our project must be one of showing instead that all this smoke, so to speak, could in the end be very much to be expected, were there a fire.

John Leslie, Universes, London, 1989, p. 108

Steven Weinberg

The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with the tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.

Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origins of the Universe, London, 1977, p. 147

Peter Geach

As Descartes himself remarked, nothing is too absurd for some philosopher to have said it some time; I once read an article about an Indian school of philosophers who were alleged to maintain that it is only a delusion, which the wise can overcome, that anything exists at all; so perhaps it would not matter all that much that a philosopher is found to defend absolute omnipotence.

Peter Geach, Providence and Evil: The Stanton Lectures 1971-2, Cambridge, 1977, p. 8