Necessary Concreta Survey
August 6, 2012 — 10:54

Author: Josh Rausmussen  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: ,   Comments: 13

Continuing in the tradition of Helen De Cruz’s intriguing survey, I present an interactive survey to collect additional data. This survey asks you questions and determines if your answers logically entail that there is one or more necessarily existing concrete particulars (things with causal powers). Your answers will be recorded and analyzed.
Although this is pure metaphysics (on the nature of concreta), the question of necessary beings has of course been of interest to philosophers of religion who view arguments for a necessary being as a first stage in a multi-stage argument for theism. That said, I would like to emphasize that the prospect of necessary concreta can be interesting in its own right, and theorists of all stripes could welcome reasons to include necessary concreta in their ontology (especially since such things can do theoretical work, such as in the philosophy of science).
The link to the survey is here: It’s been tested on IE, Chrome, and Mozilla (with the latter two providing a better presentation).
Feel free to report bugs/suggestions, either by comment or by e-mail.

I am grateful to the following people for helping to review parts of the website: Trent Dougherty, Felipe Leon, Angra Mainyu, Alexander Pruss, Rachel Rasmussen (wife!), Dan Howard Snyder, Luke van Horn, Jerry Walls, and Quinton Wolfarth. The biggest “thanks” goes to Alex Pruss who not only inspired many of the arguments behind the website but who inspired me to create the website in the first place and gave me valuable feedback and advice along the way.
I should say that the present version of the website is still “beta”. Feedback is welcome. (A later version could include more pathways and more options.)

  • Helen De Cruz

    That’s fun Josh. Wouldn’t you consider asking whether your participants are philosophers of religion? It made a difference in my survey (as indicated in the link you link to).
    Also, religious orientation might matter. Theists might be prima facie more friendly to the idea that a necessary being exists (per your question 1) than non-theists (agnostics/atheists), even if their answers could still imply that such a being exists.

    August 6, 2012 — 11:35
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Thanks for the suggestion, Helen. I wanted to minimize the number of Q’s, but maybe I could add a few more.

    August 6, 2012 — 11:41
  • I’m tired now.

    August 6, 2012 — 17:34
  • Aaron

    Hi Josh,
    I answered “yes” to the question, “it is possible that all contingent beings begin to exist.” I also affirmed that “it is possible to cause contingent being to exist.” According to your survey, it follows that I believe in a necessary being.
    I am not so sure about this. For example, let’s say that this universe began with a bang,….from nothing. When I affirm that this event is caused in some possible world, what I mean to affirm is that you could take all the matter in this world (rigidly designate it “alpha”) and there is another possible world in which a further being caused “alpha” to exist. Let’s ignore origin essentialism for a moment if that is possible:)
    My general point, is that when someone affirms that all contingent beings at a world are possibly caused, they may not be distinguishing in their “raw intuitions” between that event being cause by another contingent being in another possible world, and another possible world in which all contingent beings are caused. I hope that makes sense.

    August 7, 2012 — 11:44
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Thanks, Aaron. Did your pathway begin with:
    If so, will you confirm whether you still perceive an ambiguity? I added a some clarifications and marked the time stamp.

    August 7, 2012 — 14:44
  • Aaron

    Yes, I think that was my original pathway. In any case, even if it were not, I followed the link you provided through and did not detect an ambiguity this time. Brilliant survery btw.

    August 7, 2012 — 15:33
  • Levi Roth

    Hi Josh,
    I’m having trouble with one inference:
    “14. Necessarily, every contingent thing that’s compatible with C is included in C. [grounds omitted]”
    “15. Therefore, it is not possible for a contingent thing to cause C. (by 14 and definition of ‘includes’)”
    Why couldn’t C be caused by some contingent thing included in C? Is there some special property of C that would prevent this? (If so, it would be clearer if it were included in the grounds for 15.)

    August 7, 2012 — 20:01
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Thanks, Levi. The definition of ’cause of a situation’ should be added to the “grounds” (since ’cause’ in that context is defined as a prior condition). I’ll attempt to clarify.

    August 7, 2012 — 20:17
  • Jeremy Pierce

    A friend of mine pointed out to me that the “it seems so” and “it seems not” language might indicate epistemic possibility to some, which really does affect things.

    August 15, 2012 — 13:04
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Thanks. I’ve added a line in the intro page to help clarify the meaning of the modal terms. Where modal terms aren’t used, I assume there is no potential for confusion. (If I someone asks me, “Is there a unicorn?” and I say “It seems not”, I trust it’s clear that I’m not merely saying that it is epistemically possible that there is not a unicorn.”)

    August 16, 2012 — 7:18
  • Robert Gressis

    For some reason, I got a link to this survey via Facebook. Anyway, here’s a concern/wonder:
    One question reads: “Suppose there were just 4 contingent things that together cause a fifth. Then the initial 4 would have caused the situation of there being at least 5 contingent things.
    “Is the above scenario possible?”
    Is this scenario asking: “suppose there were just four contingent things in all of existence” or “take four contingent things that together cause a fifth”? Because if it’s asking the first thing, I’m not sure whether there can be just four contingent things in all of existence. If it’s asking the second thing, then yes, I am sure of that. But — and I’m probably wrong about this — it seems that it’s the first reading of it that you use in the proof, at the end, that a necessary being is possible. For here’s the argument I got at the end of the survey:
    1. There can be a cause of (the situation of) there being at least 5 contingent things (by your report).
    2. If there can be a cause of (the situation of) there being at least n contingent instances of a type T, then there can be a cause of the situation of there being at least n – 1 contingent instances of that same type, for any n > 1 (by your report).
    3. Therefore, there can be a cause of the (situation of) there being at least 4, at least 3, at least 2, and at least 1 contingent things. (by 1 & 2, where T = ‘contingent thing’)
    4. There cannot be a contingent thing that exists prior to there being at least 1 contingent thing. (for otherwise a contingent thing would exist while there are no contingent things [by definition of ‘prior to’], which is contradictory).
    5. Therefore, there cannot be a contingent thing that causes the situation of there being at least 1 contingent thing. (by definition of ’cause’ & 4)
    6. Therefore, there can be something that is not contingent that causes the situation of there being at least 1 contingent thing. (by 3 & 5)
    7. Therefore, a Necessary Being is possible. (by definition of ‘Necessary Being’ and ‘can be’)
    When premise 5 mentions “the situation of there being at least 1 contingent thing”, it seems to be referring to there being 1 and only 1 contingent thing in all of existence. Is that how it’s meant to be read?

    August 6, 2013 — 12:22
  • No, I think 5 is meant as it stands. The situation of there being at least one contingent thing is a temporally extended situation which obtains whenever there is at least one contingent thing.

    August 6, 2013 — 13:37
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Good question. And the answer is that (5) doesn’t require that there be *only* 1 thing. And as far as I can tell, the argument goes through just as well on the reading you accept: “take four contingent things that together cause a fifth”.

    August 6, 2013 — 18:53
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