A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Does Principle Of Sufficient Reason Imply Idealism?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 25, 2007

Previously I posted the question: “Do those who believe that ‘the world is such and such’ for pragmatic reasons, believe that ‘the world is such and such for pragmatic reasons’?”

The question appeals to the distinction between the reasons for believing that the world is such and such, and the reasons why the world is such and such. This distinction can be used to shed some light on idealism (at least of the kind that I hold), and the reasons why would one buy into idealism.

One of the important characteristics of this kind of idealism is that the idealist thinks that it is in principle possible to understand those reasons of why the world is such and such (of course the idealist doesn’t say that one can’t or shouldn’t believe things for pragmatic reasons). She believes that it is in principle possible to get to the situation where “the reason why we believe that the world is such and such” is identical with “the reason why the world is such”.

Why would an idealist believe such thing?
Well, her simple argument might go like this:

Assume that one already accepts some variant of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR):”There is always a reason why things are being such and such”.

She asks us then to consider what is meant by “there is a reason”, and points to two things:

1.In the common usage by the questions “what is the reason for X being such and such?” or “what is the reason for X?”, what people ask for is an explanation. Something which would give them understanding why X is such and such. It should be easy to point to myriad of examples of such usage.
2.The word “reason” in the language is used both in the sense as it is in the PSR, but also to refer to our faculty of reasoning.

So, having in mind this, she can argue like this:”To assume that there is a reason for a thing being such and such, is assumption that it is in principle understandable why the thing is such and such”.

So, by this simple argument the idealist can claim that the principle of sufficient reason implies idealism!

As I see it anti-idealist philosopher then can:
Accuse of sophistry. Deny that the given analysis of “there is a reason” is accurate.

Deny the validity of PSR. This option is interesting, as anti-idealist would probably like to have something similar to the PSR. It is also interesting to think how can one deny PSR, but accept determinism.

Or one can accept idealist argument, but point that even the world might be understandable “in principle” it doesn’t imply actual possibility.


One Response to “Does Principle Of Sufficient Reason Imply Idealism?”

  1. Clark said

    That’s a great point to note and is one of the reasons why idealism never quite disappears. Heidegger does this great riff on Leibniz’ principle of sufficent reason in The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic that takes up a bit this idea. Likewise Peirce, whose realism can be seen as somewhat idealistic does as well in that critique of Berkeley I mentioned in your post on pragmatic reasons.

    You bit about denying PSR but accepting determinism is an interesting one as well. I think that the traditional realist (in the 19th century sense, not the medieval sense) would argue for a distinction between representation and things represented – the basis of correspondence as truth. But during the great idealist/realist debates at the end of the 19th and early 20th century I think really do fall into the three categories you outline. I suspect, although would be hard pressed to establish it, that despite 2 and 3 getting most of the emphasis the real reason folks hate idealism is that is is so anti-intuitional and that thus folks look to 1 but know that isn’t a sufficient reason. (grin)

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