According to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (henceforth ‘PSR’), everything has an explanation or sufficient reason. This paper addresses three questions. First, how continuous is the contemporary notion of grounding with the notion of sufficient reason endorsed by Spinoza, Leibniz, and other rationalists? In particular, does a PSR formulated in terms of ground retain the intuitive pull and power of the PSR endorsed by the rationalists? Second, to what extent can the PSR avoid the formidable traditional objections levelled against it (...) if it is formulated in terms of ground? And finally, how might historical discussion of the PSR shed light on the contemporary notion of grounding? (shrink)
I argue against a principle that is widely taken to govern metaphysical explanation. This is the principle that no necessary facts can, on their own, explain a contingent fact. I then show how this result makes available a response to a longstanding objection to the Principle of Sufficient Reason—the objection that the Principle of Sufficient Reason entails that the world could not have been otherwise.
According to an important version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, every fact has a metaphysical explanation, where a metaphysical explanation of some fact tells us what makes it the case that the fact obtains. I argue that so long as we have not yet discovered that any fact is brute, we ought to be committed to this version of the principle—henceforth ‘the PSR’—because it is indispensable to a species of inquiry we ought to engage in. I argue first that (...) a practical indispensability argument applied to this species of inquiry supports a commitment to the PSR. I then show that we ought to engage in this inquiry. If my argument succeeds, then our attitude at the outset of such inquiry should not be agnosticism about whether any particular fact has a metaphysical explanation. Instead, we ought to be committed to the PSR. (shrink)
Bertrand Russell was neither the first nor the last philosopher to engage in serious theorizing about propositions. But his work between 1903, when he published The Principles of Mathematics, and 1919, when his final lectures on logical atomism were published, remains among the most important on the subject. And its importance is not merely historical. Russell’s rapidly evolving treatment of propositions during this period was driven by his engagement with – and discovery of – puzzles that either continue to shape (...) contemporary theorizing about propositions, or ought to do so. Russell’s creative responses to these puzzles also laid the foundation for many later accounts (most obviously, contemporary ‘Russellian’ accounts of propositions). In this entry we provide an opinionated overview of Russell’s influential treatment of propositions, with a focus on the evolution of his views from 1903 to 1919. A growing secondary literature is dedicated to Russell’s changing views during this period, and their often complex or opaque motivations. We do not intervene overmuch in this ongoing scholarly discussion. Instead, our aim is to trace some of the central motivations for Russell’s evolving views, and highlight the extent to which these motivations remain relevant to contemporary theorizing about propositions. (shrink)
In his Problems of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell distinguished knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge of truths. This paper argues for a new interpretation of the relationship between these two species of knowledge. I argue that knowledge by acquaintance of an object neither suffices for knowledge that one is acquainted with the object, nor puts a subject in a position to know that she is acquainted with the object. These conclusions emerge from a thorough examination of the central role played by attention (...) in Russell's theory of knowledge. Attention bridges the gap between knowledge by acquaintance and our capacity to form judgements about the objects of acquaintance. (shrink)
According to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (‘PSR’), every fact has an explanation for why it obtains. If the PSR is true, there must be a sufficient reason for why God chose to create our world. But a sufficient reason for God’s choice plausibly necessitates that choice. It thus seems that God could not have done otherwise, and that our world exists necessarily. We therefore appear forced to pick between the PSR, and the contingency of creation and divine choice. I (...) show that a third option remains open, and thus that it is possible to preserve the contingency of creation and divine choice even while endorsing the PSR. My solution depends on the coherence of a restricted modal realism. On this modal realism, there is more than one possible morally optimal created world, and for each such world there is an existing possibility in which God creates that world. (shrink)
Can Muslim values be reconciled with a feminist outlook? The question is pressing on both an individual level—for Muslim feminists—and on a political level—for the project of making Islamic practice compatible with the ideals of a just and liberal society. A version of this question arises specifically for the central Muslim text, the Quran: can the message of the Quran be reconciled with a feminist outlook? There have, broadly speaking, been two approaches to this more specific question. I argue that (...) both are inadequate. I then develop a novel approach to reconciliation that does not threaten the objective and universal normative force Muslims attribute to the Quran. My approach is revolutionary rather than apologetic, and carves out a central role for moral understanding in Islam-as-practiced. (shrink)
It strikes many as obvious that negative facts—such as that Justin Trudeau is not the prime minister of Australia—are not fundamental: negative facts must ultimately be explained in terms of positive facts (for instance, that Justin Trudeau is the prime minister of Canada). I focus on a particular class of negative facts: contingent negative existentials (such as that there are no 10ft tall humans). If contingent negative existentials are not fundamental, then they must be explained. But the claim that contingent (...) negative existentials are explained is in tension with the widely held view that any universal generalization can be explained by its instances together with a totality fact (i.e. a fact to the effect that the instances exhaust the relevant domain). This is because a totality fact is itself a negative existential, and equivalent to a universal generalization. If the explanation for any contingent negative existential must appeal to another contingent negative existential, then—unless there are no fundamental facts—not all contingent negative existentials can be non-fundamental. I argue that we should give up the age-old mantra that only positive facts can be fundamental. I show that at least some contingent negative existentials are fundamental. I first make the case for including a totality fact in the explanans for a contingent negative existential and show that alternative accounts for explaining such facts are inadequate. I then undermine the standard arguments for subscribing to the view that there are no negative facts—including negative existentials—at the fundamental level. (shrink)