Necessary and Contingent Truths

This comes from Gottfried Wilhelm Von Liebniz’s essay elaborating some notions put forth in his famous First Truths:

“Thus contingent truths are related to necessary as surd roots, i.e., the roots on incommensurable numbers, to the expressible roots of commensurable numbers.  For just as it can be shown that a small number is present in another greater number, by reducing both to the greatest common measure, so too essential propositions or truths are demonstrated: i.e., a resolution is carried on until it arrives at terms which it is established by the definitions are common to either term.  But as a greater number contains a certain other incommensurable number, and let whatever resolution you please be continued to infinity, it never arrives at a common measure – so in contingent truths, it never arrives at demonstration, however much you may resolve the concepts.  There is only this difference, that in surd roots we can nevertheless carry out demonstrations, by showing that the error is less than any assignable created mind.  And so I consider that I have unfolded something secret, which has long perplexed even myself – while I did not understand how the predicate cannot be in the subject, and yet the proposition not be necessary.  But the knowledge of things geometrical and the analysis of infinities kindled this light for me, so that I understood that concepts too are resoluble to infinity.

Hence we learn that propositions which pertain to the essences of things and those which pertain to the existences of things are different.  Essential surely are those which can be demonstrated from the resolution of terms, that is, which are necessary, or virtually identical, and the opposite of which, moreover, is impossible or virtually contradictory.  And these are the eternal truths.  They did not obtain only while the world existed, but they would also obtain if God had created a world with different plan.  But from these, existential or contingent truths differ entirely.  Their truth is understood a priori by the infinite mind alone, and they cannot be demonstrated by any resolution.  They are of the sort that are true at a certain time, and they do not only express what pertains to the possibility of things, but also what actually does exist, or would exist contingently if certain things were supposed.

For example, take the proposition, I am now living, the sun is shining.  For suppose I say that the sun is shining our hemisphere at this hour, because up to now its motion has been such that, granted it continuation, this certainly follows.  Even then (not to mention the non-necessary obligation of its continuing) that its motion even before this was so much and of this kind is similarly a contingent truth, for which again the reason should be inquired – all parts of the universe.  This, however, exceeds all created powers.  For there is no portion of matter which is not actually subdivided into other parts; hence the parts of any body whatsoever are actually infinite.  Thus neither the sun nor any other body can be perfectly known by a creature.  Much less can we arrive at the end of the analysis if we search for the mover causing the motion of any body whatsoever and again for the mover of this; for we shall always arrive at smaller bodies without end.  But God is not in need of that transition from one contingent to another earlier or simpler contingent – a transition which can never have an end (as also one contingent is in fact not the cause of another, even though it may seem so to us).  But he preserves in any individual substance from its very concept the truth of all its accidents, calling in nothing extrinsic, since any one at all involves in its way all the others and the whole universe.

Hence into all propositions into which existence and time enter, by that very fact the whole series of things enters, nor can the now or here be understood except in relation to other things.  For this reason such propositions do not allow of a demonstration or terminable resolution by which their truth might appear.  And the same holds of all accidents of individual created substances.  Indeed, even though some one were able to know the whole series of the universe, he still could not state the reason of it, except by having undertaken the comparison of it with all other possible universes.  From this it is clear why a demonstration of no contingent proposition can be found, however far the resolution of concepts be continued.”

So…in Leibniz’s view, the metaphysical is constant, the motion behind all motions – the harmony linking all forces in the world, as though a sheet of music upon which an entire orchestra is plotted and organized.

The contingent on the other hand, because of all of its eternal forces and divisions, can never be fully comprehended although individual substances and motions can be isolated and calculated in relation to other individual substances.

Leibniz turned to Metaphysics because he thought that science and math were unable to address the final cause, what he termed God, the metaphysical which lies behind all existence.

Now to Spinoza the contingent was merely a poor understanding of the Necessary by us mortal beings, and to later philosophers, the necessary was a mistaking of permanence behind more volatile and elusive contingents.

What’s your take?  Does the metaphysical necessarily exist, beyond the contingent and existential?

leibniz

The dude has great hair, doesn’t he?

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5 Responses to Necessary and Contingent Truths

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  5. Gennie Ades says:

    I’m also a painter and an independent film producer. I live in Marin County,CA. I’m currently working on a feature film about the East Timor Crises in the 1990’s. It somehow reminds me of your film Rain of the Children. You work is visualy fantastic, I only wish we could work together to tell the story of East Timor.

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