Thursday, November 10, 2016

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 cosmological argument of sorts, but one that concludes that matter, and not an immaterial creator, is the uncaused cause of contingent concrete reality. Let us therefore call any argument that deploys the principle ex nihilo nihil fit to infer the factual or metaphysical necessity of matter (or matter's ultimate constituents) an Epicurean Cosmological Argument.  

Given its simplicity and plausibility, I think it's high time for Epicurus' little argument to receive the attention and development it deserves.

7 comments:

exapologist said...

Blogger mpg said...
With my limited undergraduate philosophical knowledge, I have always been convinced of the Epicurean argument. Matter (or its possible substrate like 'information') must be essentially eternal. It would be interesting to hear the problems that non eternalist theories of time pose to this idea, though.

exapologist said...

Steve Maitzen has left a new comment on your post "Epircurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Nec...":

"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."

I'm not sure I follow the inference. Even if nothing can come from nothing, couldn't matter have come from something other than matter -- maybe a "quantum vacuum state," as some physicists suggest? In that case, matter would be only finitely old. If matter came from a quantum vacuum state, then I imagine that's even consistent with God's having created matter by triggering its emergence from the vacuum state. It's a dead-end theory, yes, but not obviously inconsistent, as far as I can see.

exapologist said...

Hi guys.

@mpg: Fwiw, I'm working on a paper defending a version of the argument that's neutral on whether matter has a beginning. An older, post-friendly version can be found here.

@Steve: I should've been clearer on this point. At the end of the post I gestured to a qualification that has your point in mind: "...the factual or metaphysical necessity of matter (or matter's ultimate constituents)...". I should've qualified it further to say, ""...the factual or metaphysical necessity of matter(or matter's ultimate constituents, or at least its material cause)...".

Best,
EA

Joe Hinman said...

no thought is given to the solution that matter comes from spirit (or mind). Mind is not nothing so it doesn't violate the assumption of the argument.

exapologist said...

Hi Joe,

To clarify: the notion of cause in play in Epicurus' argument is closer to Aristotle's notion of a material cause than his notion of an efficient cause. The idea is that concrete objects with an originating or sustaining efficient cause have a temporally or ontologically prior material cause. As such, appeal to spirit or mind as efficient cause that produced concrete objects without a material cause (i.e., temporally or ontologically prior things or stuff -- whether material or not -- out of which they were made) would be of no help in mitigating the force of the argument.

Best,
EA

Joe Hinman said...

Hi Ex. I am doing a b log piece in repose to your piece. probably up on Wednesday according to plan. Any answer I give now would be tentative so I'll hold off until then I do appreciate your info.

exapologist said...

Hi Joe,

You bet.

Best,
EA

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