Reasoning Without the Principle of Sufficient Reason

In Tyron Goldschmidt (ed.), The Philosophy of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? Routledge. pp. 64-79 (2013)
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Abstract

According to Principles of Sufficient Reason, every truth (in some relevant group) has an explanation. One of the most popular defenses of Principles of Sufficient Reason has been the presupposition of reason defense, which takes endorsement of the defended PSR to play a crucial role in our theory selection. According to recent presentations of this defense, our method of theory selection often depends on the assumption that, if a given proposition is true, then it has an explanation, and this will only be justified if we think this holds for all propositions in the relevant group. I argue that this argument fails even when restricted to contingent propositions, and even if we grant that there is no non-arbitrary way to divide true propositions that have explanations from those that lack them. Further, we can give an alternate explanation of what justifies our selecting theories on the basis of explanatory features: the crucial role is not played by an endorsement of a PSR, but rather by our belief that, prima facie, we should prefer theories that exemplify explanatory power to greater degrees than their rivals. This guides our theory selection in a manner similar to ontological parsimony and theoretical simplicity. Unlike a PSR, our belief about explanatory power gives us a prima facie guiding principle, which provides justification in the cases where we think we have it, and not in the cases where we think we don't.

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Shieva Kleinschmidt
University of Southern California

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