- Paperback: 273 pages
- Publisher: Fordham University Press; 2 edition (August 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0823218856
- ISBN-13: 978-0823218851
- Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,265,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Cosmological Argument 2nd Edition
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The good news is that while Rowe's treatment of the argument is perhaps disappointingly limited (given the title) his exposition of the modern version's key concepts, sub-arguments, and counter-arguments is eminently readable. One can expect to find a digestible treatment of such things as the PSR, the idea of a self-existing being, the counter-arguments developed by Hume, Edwards, and Russell, etc. Unfortunately, Rowe does not manage to accomplish this level of readability without also succumbing to a style that is often both repetitive and tedious. This may not bother so much newcomers to this argument, but those who are already familiar with the relevant concepts and how the sub-arguments work may find themselves clawing at their eyes out of boredom two-thirds of the way in.
Rowe is an atheist and predictably finds the version developed by Leibniz and Clarke wanting. However, Rowe's exposition is (for the most part) remarkably balanced. In particular, Rowe carefully shows, I think, that the counter-arguments developed by Hume, Edwards, and Russell to this version don't succeed. However, the aforementioned version still cannot be considered a success, Rowe maintains, because of its crucial dependence on the PSR, which says (in its strongest version) that every state of affairs must have an explanation (either in itself or in something else) for why it is so and not otherwise.
Why is the PSR a problem exactly? Well, Clarke et al. believed that the truth of the PSR could be readily known via intuition alone; however, Rowe argues, I think, successfully that the PSR, if it is true, is neither an analytic truth (e.g., "no bachelor is married") nor a necessary synthetic truth (e.g., "everything red is colored"). Hence, the version developed by Leibniz and Clarke cannot be a "proof" of God's existence since one of its premises (i.e., the PSR) cannot be "known" to be true. However, I did not find this line of argument persuasive because there are all sorts of things that can be "known" intuitively yet are neither analytic nor necessary synthetic (e.g., the fact that the world was not created a few minutes ago with an appearance of age), in which case perhaps the PSR is one of those truths.
In any case, Rowe's biggest problem with the PSR is that he thinks it is probably false. His main argument here is that there can't possibly be an explanation for the existence of positive contingent state(s) of affairs (i.e., state(s) of affairs that entails the existence of a contingent being). Rowe argues, I think, successfully that such an explanation would have to be itself a positive contingent state of affairs, but how could a positive contingent state of affairs explain the very existence of positive contingent state(s) of affairs? Isn't an explanation necessarily "circular" if it entails the thing to be explained? I think not. It seems to me that an explanation is necessarily "circular" only if it assumes (not necessarily entails) the thing to be explained. A mathematical proof, for example, is "circular" if it assumes the conclusion it purports to prove but not necessarily if it entails it. Indeed, in order for a mathematical proof to be successful it must somehow manage to entail its conclusion without also assuming it. In sum, I don't think Rowe's criticisms of the PSR are successful, but, of course, that doesn't mean the PSR is in fact true. However, it does mean that the version of the cosmological argument developed by Leibniz and Clarke survives Rowe's criticisms concerning the PSR.
All things considered, I recommend this book for its systematic treatment of the version of the cosmological argument developed by Leibniz and Clarke. If that is an argument you would like to learn more about then this is a very good place to start.
William Rowe attempts to give an extensive overview and (to some extent) a defense of the CA in this book, focusing on a particular formulation of the argument given by Samuel Clarke in the 18th century. To be sure, Rowe himself is an atheist, and he admits that while he is not wholly convinced by the cosmological argument--if he were, he would probably be a theist--he does believe that it is one of the more powerful and interesting pieces of natural theology available in the philosophical literature. In fact, he goes on to say that he strongly disagrees with many of his atheistic colleagues who believe that the epitaph for cosmological arguments has long been written by the likes of Hume and Kant. His treatment of the argument is critical, relentlessly rational, in-depth, persuasive, and (most importantly) fair.
Overall, though Rowe is a bit skeptical about some of the logical commitments that the CA commands, he does believe that it goes a much longer way in justifying theistic belief than some other independent arguments for the existence of God (teleological, ontological, etc.). This is definitely one of the most reasonable--if not *the* most reasonable--treatments of the CA you will find in all of the available literature. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a legitimate evaluation of the issues.
Rowe divides this argument into two stages: the first is an argument for the existence of a necessary being, and the second is an argument for the conclusion that this being is God. Though Rowe does address the second stage, he focuses on the first stage. This involves a lengthy exposition and critique of the principle of sufficient reason.
Rowe addresses various traditional objections leveled against the argument, and shows how these may be avoided. Most problematic is the status of the principle of sufficient reason, and Rowe develops various versions of this principle in reply to ingenious objections. The treatment of the idea of a necessary being could be strengthened significantly in light of the subsequent work of Saul Kripke.
Rowe concludes that the cosmological argument fails as a proof for the existence of a necessary being because the principle of sufficient reason upon which it depends is not known to be true; however, he claims that the argument may nevertheless show that it is reasonable to accept the conclusion because it may be reasonable to accept the principle.
The book is very well organized and elegantly written. Rowe presents the argument and the objections with great care, often summarizing the dialectic for the reader. His treatment of the argument is original and insightful, and his criticisms are sensible.
The new edition includes a preface summarizing the argument and addressing some criticism of, and problems with, the first edition. Unfortunately, the preface is brief, and Rowe only mentions new versions of the cosmological argument. These include arguments that do not depend upon the principle of sufficient reason.
Nevertheless, this book remains one of the best treatments of the cosmological argument, and I recommend it highly. The book should be accessible for advanced undergraduate students in philosophy; though Rowe usually defines technical terminology carefully, readers totally unfamiliar with contemporary analytic philosophy may find it quite difficult.
For alternative arguments for the existence of God I recommend "The Divine Lawmaker" by Foster and "Experience of God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief" by Gellman. These may be more difficult than Rowe's book.