A response to an objection to “Why something as opposed to nothing”

Roderick T. Long responds to the question “Why something rather than nothing” (ht- comment no. 1):

I regard [the question] as incoherent. It makes no sense to ask for an explanation of the whole of existence – whether that whole includes a God or not. Any attempt to explain existence has to appeal either to something in existence or something not in existence. If it appeals to something that’s already in existence (be it God, quarks, or whatever you like), then you’re not explaining all of existence; and if it appeals to something not in existence, then you’ve offered no explanation at all.

I would let this pass except that Mr. Long says he is an Aristotelian. But then the problem with his argument becomes obvious – for he is assuming that “existence” is a single class of objects, such that all things either are in that class or outside of it. But Aristotle’s whole philosophy – from the Categories to the Analytics to the Metaphysics – is an emphatic denial of seeing existence or being in this way. The unity of the concept “being” is not from its being a homogeneous whole but rather from its being an order of meanings that have reference to some first. To think that man has a concept of existence like Long imputes to him here, that is, a big, Venn-diagram style concept of existence into which theists include God and atheists exclude him is to consider existence in a way that is absolutely opposed to what Aristotle teaches. In fact, I’d argue that the first thing we know scientifically about being is that it is not this way. Being is not a genus. Being is thus essentially diverse: it just is the unity of order from A to B, and there is no sense “C” that we can circumscribe around A and B after we find them.

This is why it not only makes sense to speak of a being that is responsible for being, it is exactly the sort of question that one should ask about being when they understand it as it is. Being is defined by its order or hierarchy, and so in understanding it we strive to understand the difference between what is at the summit of the hierarchy and what participates in it.


  1. X-Cathedra said,

    October 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Nail. Head.

  2. John Farrell said,

    October 26, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Excellent post. Indeed R. Long’s objection reminds me somewhat of the debate on this issue between Etienne Gilson and Sidney Hook; Hook’s point being very similar to Long’s.

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