Friday, October 23, 2009

The Misappropriation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason

The Misappropriation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason

The Principle of Sufficient Reason (hereafter referred to simply as “the/this principle”), generally classified as work done by Gottfried Leibniz, asserts that for any event there must be a sufficient reason or prior event that accounts for its coming to happen or assessment as true. This principle has been expounded upon by many, from philosophers like Arhur Schopenhauer to Theologians like William Lane Craig.

As a general rule, and as originally outlined, the principle was to be nothing more than a deductive proof for the necessity of a cause that itself is not contingent. That is, it was meant to guide us to the reality that all events (both material and mental) are accounted for by making reference to some other contingent factor which lent itself to the former’s coming about. From here we are to, in avoidance of running back contingent factors ad infinitum, accept that there must be an original thing, which itself is not bound to contingency (i.e. something that is necessary).

Over the course of history the principle was then conceptualized in different ways so as to lend credence to some other, again, not originally intended point of view. Christians in particular have attempted to utilize this in an effort to further support their insistence that their belief in God is not just a faith-based ideal, but also one well within the confines of reason and logic. Putting aside the disingenuousness involved in exempting some particular character from contingency and making them “King of Contingent Factors” by branding them “necessary”, there are very relevant problems that come about for the great monotheistic systems when accepting this principle (this due to the particular traits they maintain are absolutely necessary of God).

The opening issue that becomes immediately recognizable is that God’s supposed knowledge of all things becomes questionable. From where does this material become supported as sufficiently known? When making reference to known things, we need make reference to how they became known, and saying, “God just knows” is the most exemplary case of question begging one could fathom. However, without the “God knows all” cliché, this God is hardly the conceptualization they need to retain their religious ideals and tenets. So, it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

But, suppose we accept this! As painstakingly hard as that may be to do, suppose we push ourselves to accept this condition. Other problems just as quickly arise. What would prompt God to do such a thing? What (forgetting the problems of God being temporal) would cause God to up and create a world? We would need to appeal to sufficient reason for God to be acting in the way that he does (otherwise, he’d be acting spontaneously, not something they will be able to accept either). And, as we know, sufficient reasons for something to go about behaving in some particular way, as it relates to the mentality that spawned said decision, is always a combination of both cognitive and influencing factors (we have Schopenhauer’s elaboration on the principle to thank for this). The influencing factors are key in abolishing the monotheistic idea that God could be somehow self-sufficient in action and thought.

Also, if God knows everything, what does he know everything ABOUT? When we speak of knowledge, we are talking about our capacity to make claims of surety ABOUT things in the world. So, claiming that God has knowledge necessarily denotes that there is already something for God to have knowledge about! This means that God would not be anything near the God that the monotheisms have envisioned him to be. This point is not tied to the principle necessarily, but it was worth mentioning.

So, where to go from here? If Christians and the other major monotheistic religions accept the principle, they shove God into a corner that, quite frankly, would drive their religious tenets into meaningless, and as such into a place they would rather God not be. A God who has to exist alongside all other things is not the God they’ve envisioned, but it’s a God that is the necessary consequence of the acceptance of this principle. And hence, its misappropriation has become apparent in it’s contradicting the presupposed characteristics they’ve already granted God.

Now, this is simply an explanation regarding the uselessness and destructive nature that this principle has as it relates to Judao-Christianity, not an argument against the principle itself.