Skip to main content

Williamson's Necessitism and Anselmian Theism

Timothy Williamson has recently argued for necessitism, according to which anything that exists in one possible world exists in every possible world; that is, that every possible being is a necessary being. However, that doesn't mean that every possible being has the property of being concrete at every possible world (and so there are plenty of worlds at which we are mere abstract objects).

If true, necessitism would to have interesting implications for certain views in philosophy of religion. For example, it would mean that if an Anselmian being exists, then it is just one among infinitely many other necessary beings. Of course, one could reply that an Anselmian being still retains its unique and superlative status in virtue of being the only being who exists concretely at every possible world. Perhaps that's a difference that matters. Still, it seems to me that it would chip away at at least some of an Anselmian being's greatness.

Comments

Steve Maitzen said…
Williamson's position is so wildly implausible on its face that I can't see how it's worth taking seriously unless it purports to solve some serious problem that stumps all facially more plausible positions. As far as I know, Williamson never claims this virtue for his position. Instead, he defends it on the grounds that it fits the best with what he says is the simplest and strongest form of modal logic, namely, classical S5 plus the Barcan Formula. In that case, it's easy to one-up him by saying that not only does every possible being exist necessarily, but every possible truth is necessarily true -- i.e., necessitarianism -- in which case all we need is classical predicate logic with identity, the kind of logic Williamson correctly insists we already understand better than any other kind. We don't even need modal logic. Hard to get simpler than that! All we sacrifice is the commonsense view that something or other could have gone differently.

Williamson's position also seems not to recognize that common sense is the basis of classical logic, the logic that Williamson has been correct to defend against its critics. Why think that the string of symbols that constitutes (for example) an application of modus tollens captures valid reasoning? Not for any syntactic reason -- not because of the pattern that the symbols form -- but because common sense, thinking as hard as it can, can't see how the form of reasoning represented by those symbols could possibly fail.

Sorry to rant, but Williamson here reminds me of physicist Sean Carroll, who recently said that we should take the Schroedinger equation at face value even if it requires us to believe in zillions of parallel universes in which physical duplicates of me are typing this comment right now, common sense be damned. In the linked comment, I one-upped him by declaring that we should take an even simpler Newtonian equation at face value even if it means having to believe that macroscopic objects routinely move backward in time. If there's a principled difference between Carroll's position and my parody, I can't see it.

For all his undeniable brilliance, Williamson (like Lewis) is too often comfortable defending views that the rest of the philosophical world (let alone the rest of the non-philosophical world) finds simply incredible. To quote two critics: "Williamson contends that English usage determines a precise if unknown amount of money such that anyone with that amount of money or less satisfies 'poor', and anyone with even a penny more satisfies 'not poor'. We don't for a moment suppose that this doctrine is contradictory, but we nonetheless find it incredible that our casual and careless practices establish a partition of such astonishing exactitude" [McGee and McLaughlin, "Logical Commitment and Semantic Indeterminacy: A Reply to Williamson," Linguistics and Philosophy 27 (2004): 123–136].

Popular posts from this blog

Epicurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Necessity

One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter's (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being. 
A stronger version of Epicurus' core argument can be developed by adding an appeal to something in the neighborhood of origin essentialism. The basic line of reasoning here is that being uncreated is an essential property of matter, and thus that the matter at the actual world is essentially uncreated.
Yet stronger versions of the argument could go on from there by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason to argue that whatever plays the role of being eternal and essentially uncreated does not vary from world to world, and thus that matter is a metaphysically necessary being.
It seems to me that this broadly Epicurean line of reasoning is a co…

Notes on Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence"

0. Introduction
0.1 Mackie argues that the problem of evil proves that either no god exists, or at least that the god of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, does not exist. His argument is roughly the same version of the problem of evil that we’ve been considering.
0.2 Mackie thinks that one can avoid the conclusion that God does not exist only if one admits that either God is not omnipotent (i.e., not all-powerful), or that God is not perfectly good. 0.3 However, he thinks that hardly anyone will be willing to take this route. For doing so leaves one with a conception of a god that isn’t worthy of worship, and therefore not religiously significant.
0.4 After his brief discussion of his version of the problem of evil, he considers most of the main responses to the problem of evil, and concludes that none of them work.

1. First Response and Mackie's Reply
1.1 Response: Good can’t exist without evil; evil is a necessary counterpart to good.
1.2 Mackie’s reply:
1.2.1 this see…

Notes on Swinburne, "On Why God Allows Evil"

Notes on Swinburne’s “Why God Allows Evil”

1. The kinds of goods a theistic god would provide: deeper goods than just “thrills of pleasure and times of contentment” (p. 90). For example:
1.1 Significant freedom and responsibility
1.1.1 for ourselves
1.1.2 for others
1.1.3 for the world in which they live
1.2 Valuable lives
1.2.1 being of significant use to ourselves
1.2.2 being of significant use to each other

2. Kinds of evil
2.1 Moral evil: all the evil caused or permitted by human beings, whether intentionally or through negligence (e.g., murder, theft, etc.)
2.2 Natural evil: all the rest: evil not caused or permitted by human beings (e.g., suffering caused by hurricanes, forest fires, diseases, animal suffering, etc.)

3. The gist of Swinburne’s answer to the problem of evil: God cannot – logically cannot -- give us the goods of significant freedom, responsibility and usefulness without thereby allowing for the possibility of lots of moral and natural evil. This is why he has al…