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Outline of Rowe's Chapter on the Argument from Contingency in His Philosophy of Religion, Part I

Notes on Rowe on the Cosmological Argument, Part One

1. Setup: Terminology
1.1 Dependent beings: a being whose existence is accounted for by the causal activity of other beings
1.2 Self-existent beings: beings whose existence is self-explanatory, or accounted for by their own inner nature
1.3 The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR): There must be an explanation for (a) the existence of every being, and (b) of every positive fact whatsoever, either in terms of something else or in terms of its own inner nature.

2. The Argument:
2.1 (1) Either everything is a dependent being, or there is a self-existent being.
2.1 (2) Not everything is a dependent being.
2.3 (3) Therefore, there is a self-existent being.
2.4 The argument is valid, since it has the valid argument form of Disjunctive Syllogism ((1) P or Q, (2) Not-P; therefore, (3) Q)
2.5 So, if the premises are both true, the conclusion follows of necessity.
2.6 So what is the evidence for the premises?

3. The Case for Premise 1: There can be no being that has no explanation at all (i.e., no explanation in terms of other beings, and no explanation in terms of its own nature)
3.1. Premise 1 states that either all beings are dependent, or there is at least one self-existent being.
3.2 But at first glance, at least, this seems false. For notice that there seem to be at least three types of beings that there could be
3.2.1 beings explained by one or more other beings
3.2.2 beings explained by nothing
3.2.3 beings explained by their own nature – self-explanatory beings
3.3 But the argument we’re discussing assumes that the second type of being is impossible
3.4 Why think that? If it’s wrong about that, then the argument doesn’t work
3.5 Answer: it assumes PSR
3.5.1 If the second type of being could exist, then it would have no explanation whatsoever for why it exists – it just does, and that’s all there is to say about it
3.5.2 But PSR says that everything has an explanation for why it exists, either in terms of something else or in terms of its own inner nature.
3.5.3 Thus, if PSR is true, then there can be no such beings.
3.6 Thus, PSR, if true, rules out this second type of being, and in this way, PSR supports premise (1).

4. The Case for Premise 2: Dependent beings can’t be accounted for in terms of just other dependent beings, no matter how many
4.1 The reason is not because every series of dependent beings must have a temporal "first" being to cause the others.
4.1.1 There are other versions of the cosmological argument that reason in that way.
4.1.2 But this version of the argument allows that a beginningless series of dependent beings is possible in principle
4.2 The real reason:
4.2.1 It's because, even if the series of dependent beings goes back forever, the existence of the series of dependent beings would itself be just another dependent being.
4.2.2 But if so, then by PSR(a), it too would need an explanation or sufficient reason for why it exists, and PSR says it must have one before we can legitimately stop our quest of explanations.
4.2.3 But even if the series of dependent beings isn't itself a being, the existence of the series of dependent beings is a positive fact or state of affairs.
4.2.4 But if so, then by PSR(b), it, too, would need an explanation for why it obtains.
4.2.5 Another way to think of it: even if there is an infinite series of dependent beings that goes back through eternity, we would still need an explanation for why there have always been dependent beings (as opposed to there being nothing).
4.2.6 Thus, no matter which way you slice it, dependent beings are inherently incapable of accounting for their own existence.

5. Conclusion:
5.1 The cosmological argument from contingency is logically valid; so if the premises are true, the conclusion follows of logical necessity.
5.2 Furthermore, there is a good prima facie case for the premises, as we've just seen
5.2.1 Premise 1 is supported by PSR, which rules out the existence of brute facts, i.e., beings that have no explanation for why they exist.
5.2.2 Premise 2 is supported by the apparent fact that dependent beings are inherently incapable of accounting for/explaining themselves.
5.3 If all these things are so, then we're rationally pushed to conclude that there must be at least one self-existent being to explain why there are dependent beings.


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