The Ultimate Why Question

The Ultimate Why Question: why is there anything at all rather than nothing whatsoever?

Edited by John F. Wippel
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  • Book Info
    The Ultimate Why Question
    Book Description:

    This volume gathers studies by prominent scholars and philosophers about the question how have major figures from the history of philosophy, and some contemporary philosophers, addressed "the ultimate why question": why is there anything at all rather than nothing whatsoever?

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1915-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)
    John F. Wippel

    The title of this book is in itself controversial and so, too, is the book’s theme: “The ultimate why question: why is there anything at all rather than nothing whatsoever?”¹ For some philosophers, that something now exists and therefore that something has always existed is simply a brute fact and needs no explanation. Hence this question should not even be raised. For many other philosophers, however, the question is legitimate, interesting, and worth pursuing. As will be evident from the chapters that follow, even among these philosophers the question is understood in different ways. According to some, it should be...

  5. Part One. Contributions in Ancient Philosophy
    • 1 Goodness, Unity, and Creation in the Platonic Tradition
      (pp. 29-42)
      Lloyd P. Gerson

      By “the Platonic tradition” I mean to indicate certain fundamental principles shared by Plato and by all those who identified themselves as his disciples. From the perspective of the soi-disants followers of Plato, he was not the first or the only revealer of the truth; he was, though, the most sublime. Since Platonists regularly appropriated Aristotelian distinctions and arguments for their articulation of Platonism on the grounds that he was himself at heart a Platonist, albeit a dissident one, I will not hesitate to call on the Stagirite as needed.¹

      The Platonic tradition can fairly claim to be the fons...

    • 2 The Question of Being, Non-Being, and “Creation ex Nihilo” in Chinese Philosophy
      (pp. 43-62)
      May Sim

      Some commentators on Chinese philosophy maintain the position that in classical Chinese philosophy there is no question about being. Yu Jiyuan asserts that Aristotle’s examination of the question of being is linked to predication.¹ That the Chinese language lacks the pertinent subject-predicate grammar of Greek leads Yu to deny that the question of being exists for classical Chinese philosophy. Yu says, “it is the absence of predication in Chinese that is responsible for the absence of the question of being in Chinese philosophy” (440). Similarly, David Hall appeals to Angus Graham’s contrast between you (sometimes translated “being,” but more literally...

  6. Part Two. Contributions in Medieval Philosophy
    • 3 The Ultimate Why Question: Avicenna on Why God Is Absolutely Necessary
      (pp. 65-83)
      Jon McGinnis

      The question “Why is there anything at all rather than absolutely nothing?” was not a question medieval Arabic-speaking philosophers were prone to raise, at least not in this exact wording. Instead, they were more concerned with the related question, “Why is there a world rather than no world at all?” or more exactly, “Why does the world have the particular features that it has?” Certainly in the classical and medieval periods the standard answer to this latter question was simply, in one form or another, ‘God.’ Plato invoked the need for a demiurge to explain the orderly existence of our...

    • 4 Thomas Aquinas on the Ultimate Why Question: Why Is There Anything at All Rather than Nothing Whatsoever?
      (pp. 84-106)
      John F. Wippel

      Let me begin by acknowledging that I have not found Aquinas raising this question in these exact words. But it is interesting to note that a contemporary of his who was teaching in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Paris, the so-called Latin Averroist, Siger of Brabant, did address the question in these terms. He did so either during or immediately after Thomas’s second teaching period at the University of Paris, which ended in 1272. Siger considers this issue in two of the four surviving versions of his Quaestiones in Metaphysicam (ca. 1272–75), which in fact are...

  7. Part Three. Contributions in Modern Philosophy
    • 5 Causa sui and Created Truth in Descartes
      (pp. 109-124)
      Tad M. Schmaltz

      Why is there anything at all rather than absolutely nothing? This paradigmatically philosophical question is a request for an ultimate reason that renders existence fully intelligible. Some have insisted that this request is reasonable—indeed, the very foundation of rationality—and have urged that, when pressed, it leads us to some ultimate cause of contingent objects that itself exists necessarily and so provides its own reason for its existence. This is of course the line of thought behind the so-called cosmological argument. Others have objected that the request is unreasonable, given the possibility that there is no ultimate cause of...

    • 6 Being and Being Grounded
      (pp. 125-145)
      Daniel O. Dahlstrom

      The world today stands under the spell of Leibniz’s thought. Or, perhaps more carefully, we might say that the world today stands under the spell of what Leibniz thought only too well. With uncanny perceptiveness, he managed to articulate a basic principle of thinking and being in the early modern world that is arguably as vital today as it was at the outset of the eighteenth century. Looking for reasons, causes, and grounds of things was, to be sure, hardly novel then; indeed, it was second nature for human beings long before Leibniz’s day. Yet Leibniz possessed the philosopher’s gift...

    • 7 Why Is There Anything at All Rather than Absolutely Nothing? F. W. J. Schelling’s Answer to the Ultimate Why Question
      (pp. 146-169)
      Holger Zaborowski

      The last decades of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth belong to the most interesting and important periods of German philosophy, if not even of modern Western philosophy tout court. Frederick C. Beiser rightly calls this time of Kant’s critical philosophy and of German Idealism “one of the most revolutionary and fertile” periods “in the history of modern philosophy.”¹ F. W. J. Schelling argued in 1830 that since Kant, philosophy had not come to rest yet. “The effect of Kant,” he stated a few years later, “was indeed exceptional.”² What happened in this period to make...

    • 8 The Ultimate Why Question: The Hegelian Option
      (pp. 170-188)
      Edward C. Halper

      The question posed in the title of this volume, “The Ultimate Why Question,” is a venerable one that is usually understood to ask why there is something rather than nothing and answered by positing a highest cause, a transcendent God. The aim of this chapter is to introduce and explore an alternative interpretation of the question along with an answer that I ascribe to Hegel. Among other advantages, this alternative throws light on the more traditional approach to the problem. By the same token, the traditional account points up a difficulty in the Hegelian account. My strategy here is to...

  8. Part Four. Contemporary Contributions
    • 9 Some Contemporary Theories of Divine Creation
      (pp. 191-205)
      Robert Cummings Neville

      Conceptions of God can be classified conveniently into two rough sorts, those that conceive God as a determinate entity, and those that conceive God as the ground of being, not a determinate entity within or alongside the world.¹ The intellectual strategy of classifying conceptions is by no means innocent. Perhaps no individual thinker fits the classifications exactly, and to treat a philosopher as falling into a classification scheme is to obscure those elements of the philosophy that do not register in the scheme.² Nevertheless, a classification scheme can help sort out certain elements of the logic of conceptions, which is...

    • 10 Pragmatic Reflections on Final Causality
      (pp. 206-216)
      Brian Martine

      Setting out to write a little paper on “the ultimate why question” is the sort of thing that only philosophers would do—at least as anything more than a joke. In fact, one fears that it is just the kind of thing that has made people in our very practical age turn away altogether from philosophy as what seems to many if not most of them a perfectly useless pursuit. What on earth can one mean by asking “why?” independently of some particular context? Can such a question mean anything at all? Far from considering this a naïve response, I...

    • 11 Optimalism and the Rationality of the Real: On the Prospects of Axiological Explanation
      (pp. 217-230)
      Nicholas Rescher

      Is the real ultimately rational? Can we ever manage to explain the nature of reality—the make-up of the universe as a whole? Is there not an insuperable obstacle here—an infeasibility that was discerned already by Immanuel Kant, who argued roughly as follows: The demand for a rationale that accounts for reality-as-a-whole is a totalitarian demand. As such it is illegitimate. All explanations require inputs. Explanation always proceeds by explaining one thing in terms of something else. There thus is no way to explain Reality, to give an account of everything-as-a-whole. For this sort of thing would evade neither...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-244)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 245-248)
  11. Index of Topics
    (pp. 249-256)
  12. Index of Names
    (pp. 257-261)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 262-263)