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Summary in 400 words or less:
Function of the PSR
The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is a metaphysical philosophical theorem that Leibniz applied concerning both reality and truth. The PSR requires an explanation for why something is real instead of unreal and why a proposition is true instead of false, even if we do not know that explanation.
For Leibniz, all necessarily true statements have a sufficient explanation, and a statement can be necessarily true if its negation is a contradiction. Moreover, the PSR only applies to contingent statements, events, and entities.
PSR as a Theorem
As a theorem, the PSR must be demonstrated somehow as being real or correct. According to Leibniz, although the PSR could be inferred from physical and philosophical experimentation, empirical means cannot alone establish the PSR as certainly true.
According to Alexander Pruss, some philosophers oppose the PSR because they believe that the PSR can function in argumentation to demonstrate that God is real. They deny that God is real or that we can know God is real. Therefore, they deny the PSR.
Some object to the PSR based on an interpretation of quantum mechanics. Nevertheless, proponents of the PSR generally believe that the PSR is self-evident; however, others wonder if a formulation of it can be proven.
Clarifying the PSR
Spinoza implied in Theological Political Treatise that one’s familiarity with a phenomenon does not make it intelligible. Therefore, both extraordinary and ordinary events require an explanation for their existence. To infer universal truths based on our experiences, we must know an explanation for the nature of those experiences.
However, Peter van Inwagen and Jonathan Bennett developed an argument that the PSR entails that contingency is not real. In other words, all events are necessary and God’s sovereignty would be subject to determinism.
Instead, Michael Almeida advocated viewing the PSR as only applying to explainable propositions. Thus, God under the PSR would be the foundational explanation for all events and contingent entities which can be explained.
Additional key points about the PSR
- If real, the PSR must be compatible with (and might apply to) the law of noncontradiction.
- The PSR cannot entail the impossible.
- If true, the PSR must be necessarily true.
- Some forms of PSR do not deny contingency.
- Christians should not be content with accepting a form of PSR which results in a denial of contingency (and hence no divine sovereignty or free will).
Scripture for YouVersion: Romans 1:20, Mark 2:3-12
Videos on Deterministic or Spinoza Principle of Sufficient Reason:
-Oppositum. “The Principle of Sufficient Reason: An Appropriate Presupposition of Reason Itself.” 12 Jul. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niBeWIkenlE.
-Oppositum. “Denying the Principle of Sufficient Reason is Incoherent” 14 Jan. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUjOZyJ7z0E.
Three questions (one fill-in-the-blank, one multiple choice, and one discussion question):
1. The PSR only applies to ________ statements, events, and entities.
2. Which of the following statements is false concerning the Principle of Sufficient Reason?
- The PSR does not require that an infinite regress of explanations would be real.
- Under the PSR, even ordinary events require an explanation for their real existence.
- Under the PSR, mere humans require an explanation for their real existence.
- Under the PSR, one part of the explanation for something’s real existence can conflict with another part of that explanation.
3. If the PSR applies only to events and things which can be explained, then could we with certainty say that the PSR would result in determinism?
References for further reading:
Michael Almeida. “van Inwagen on PSR.” The Prosblogion. 23 Dec. 2014. http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/2014/12/23/contingency-and-psr/. Accessed 20 May 2015. Web.
“Principle of Sufficient Reason.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sufficient-reason/. Accessed 2015. Web.
Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra. “Chapter 3: The Principles of Contradiction, Sufficient Reason, and Identity of Indiscernibles.” 2012. http://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/27445/Contradiction_Sufficient_Reason_and_Identity_of_Indiscernibles.pdf. Accessed May 2015. Web.
From Appeared to Blogly (Chad McIntosh): The Principle of Sufficient Reason. Pruss, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment (Cambridge, 2006). Two good article treatments are Pruss, “Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit: Arguments New and Old for the Principle of Sufficient Reason” (2002); “A Restricted Principle of Sufficient Reason and the Cosmological Argument” Religious Studies 40 (2004), pp. 165–179. Tyron Goldschmidt (ed.). The Puzzle of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? (Routledge, forthcoming).
The Principle of Necessary Reason. John O’Leary-Hawthorne and Andrew Cortens, “The Principle of Necessary Reason,” Faith and Philosophy 10/1 (1993), pp. 60-67.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sufficient-reason/
Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics – page 298
Collaborators: Z. E. Kendall, Mark McGee
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