Ontological Integrity & the Possibility of Actuality

If reality were not coherent through and through – if, that is to say, the Many things were not integral in some One – then there could be no world. There is a world, in which every one thing is completely coordinated to every other; so reality is coherent, and integral in and as some One.

Notice that finite creatures are incapable of the infinite calculation needed to achieve an integral coordination of things. The One in and as which things are integrated must then be itself infinite. It must furthermore be eternal; for, as constituting by itself the mundane forecondition and matrix of all the items that go to make up any worlds and their temporal orders, it must be prior to all such orders, and to their constituents. Such orders then, and all the Many, supervene upon that One.

In virtue of the perfect coordination of each item to every other, each atom is implicitly a system of all things. Trace the causal influences outward from any event x to their furthest extent, and you must thereby describe an account of all things, each of which has contributed to x. Were it otherwise, then actualities would not be really reflected in each other; and nor then could they be truly reflected in or by each other. If there be no fact of the matter in re the relations of things, then nor a fortiori can there be any truth of that matter.

Things could not then, any of them, mean anything. In that case, explanation, knowledge, understanding, representation, images, symbols, meaning, order, value would all be empty categories. So by the same token would their opposites, noise, chaos, disorder, etc.

Taking just one of those pairs of opposites, “order” and “disorder” between them cover all of reality. Everything whatsoever is more or less ordered; to be is to be ordered, more or less. If “order” and “disorder” were empty categories, then, there could not be any actual reality.

Either the One exists, forms and orders all things, or there is no such thing as things.

27 thoughts on “Ontological Integrity & the Possibility of Actuality

  1. Pingback: Ontological Integrity & the Possibility of Actuality | Neoreactive

  2. Is there a formal name for this argument? It seems well-structured in the apologetic logic sense. I can’t really find any fault with it, and yet I don’t remember coming across it when I reviewed popular arguments for God.

    • Could be, but I don’t know it. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, but I’ve never seen this argument anywhere, either.

      I wasn’t even trying to come up with an argument for God. I was rather only recording the realization that if things are not all implicit in each other, then there can be no such thing as meaning, or therefore of explanation. If science of any sort is to be the least little bit possible, the world must be thoroughly intelligible; and the only way that it can be thoroughly intelligible is if it is thoroughly coherent, with not a single loose end anywhere.

      The kernel of the post was the sentence, “If each atom was not a system of all things, then events would not be really reflected in each other, nor would they therefore be truly reflected in each other.” It hit me as I was on the way to lunch this morning. You can’t get a true statement about relations between things unless there are factual relations between them. Not only that, but you can’t even get a false statement about relations between things unless there are factual relations between them.

      The next step was the realization that creatures are not competent to take the sort of complete account of anything, either ontologically or epistemologically, that is necessary if they are each to be a system of all things, so that a world of such creatures could have internal causal coherence – could actually be a world, properly so called. Only omniscient omnipotence is competent to perform that accounting. So unless God is around to do it first, creatures are not going to be able to be each a system of all their causal inputs. The only way they can possibly do it is if God has first done it for them, as the very first forecondition of their becoming, which they then as it were inherit from his graceful donation.

      The argument is of the general form, “the world is not sufficient to cause itself.” So it is a species of the Cosmological Argument. I suppose you could call it the Cosmic Argument, because it starts from a consideration of that orderliness and intelligibility of our world that warrants our calling it a cosmos in the first place.

      • Yes, I do see some reflection of the Cosmological Argument in it, but your argument short-circuits the response of a possibly infinite universe. Even if such a thing could be proved, your argument still stands.

        I think the only way an atheist could get around it would be to deny that things are related in any way, only that they ‘appear’ to be, but this would eventually end up with a kind of Solipsism and force the atheist to deny that science or even logical thinking has any use at all.

      • Hm. Implicitly, I suppose so, in the sense that it argues we couldn’t think if God didn’t exist, because there would in that case be no world, properly so called. But a key premise of the argument – that finite creatures are incapable of the computation needed to account for everything (traditionally called Divine Providence) – is verified by reference to sub-theological doctrines (from natural history and the science of computation). So I’m not sure van Til would be altogether happy with it.

      • @Kristor:

        I’ve been exposed to a lot of Van Tilianianism over time, and after initially embracing the framework of it, I grew confused by it after reading some of Cornelius van Til’s works. He really, really doesn’t like a lot of folks from the history of apologetics, some deservedly so (what he calls “Buterlism” is at the root of much compromise to reigning secular theories, it seems to me), but others for seemingly no reason.

        His student John Frame has a much more balanced approach to the whole question. He doesn’t reject the classical arguments, but puts them in a presuppositional framework. The arguments work, just not in the way your typical “evidentialist” wants them to work. They are, for the most part, transcendental arguments pointing back to God as the necessary being of a rational world. Not just any God, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who became incarnate by the Virgin Mary. That’s not immediately obvious to someone coming from a non-believing perspective, but that’s the origin of the relative chaos and confusion of their thought.

      • I have thought for some time that the classical arguments work decisively only once you have accepted the reality of the transcendentals, and that this acceptance is then logically tantamount to acceptance of theism (and, by some further logical work, of Christianity). The only thing you need to do in order to move from Platonic realism (whatever the ontological details of what is meant by its assertion of that reality) to Christian theism is to understand the concepts of God and of the transcendentals well enough, and then one realizes that the transcendentals and God logically imply each other – this being why, as van Til insists, you just can’t get the transcendentals to begin with, let alone their mundane instantiations, unless YHWH exists. Once you get what is meant by “God” and “being,” “truth,” “beauty,” and so forth, you *just see* their mutual implication – and then, the classical arguments suddenly seem overwhelmingly strong. But before you get them, you just can’t see any of it, no matter how you try.

        I.e., in order for the classical arguments to work for you, you must first begin to inhabit a perspective, an understanding, within which the contingent things of this world are seen as derivates of some higher world.

        Most moderns are not there. I was not there myself, for a long time. Moderns take the phenomenal world as their analytical point of departure, and try to ground everything in phenomena. Thus nominalism, Pragmatism, positivism. They are honorably intended: we take the deliverances of the senses, and try to sort through them and put them into some sort of order, and that’s it.

        Moderns begin by an intuition that, the phenomenal world being the fundamental datum of all analysis, God can exist only as a superaddition to that world, and his existence is therefore amenable to proof only via adduction of aspects of that world. They then often appeal to evidential arguments or cosmological arguments. These arguments are not wrong – most of them are right – but they are not convincing to a man who (so far as he can yet tell) has no experience of God, and therefore no reason to think him real.

        Classical thinkers begin by an intuition that the intellectual world is the fundamental datum of all analysis, as it must be if experience is to be analyzed in the first place (because analysis is ordered eo ipso to end in terms amenable to intellectual manipulation), and move from the reality of the Forms to the reality of their instantiations, arguing that such instantiations all presuppose their forms. They notice that if being is to occur in this way or that, the forms of that being must first somehow exist. They like to appeal to ontological and presuppositional arguments.

        Such arguments look to moderns like utter nonsense, whereas a nice solid cosmological argument can appear to a modern to make some sense, even if (as he thinks) it happens to be wrong.

        Moderns are bottom up, whereas the premoderns are top down. Only the latter really works in the end.

        But then, in practice the bottom up method ends either in the madness of nihilism, or at credence in the Forms. Having arrived at that credence, bottom up thinkers do a 180 and become top down thinkers. It doesn’t really matter where you start, then, or how you proceed, so long as you are careful enough, and honest. In a coherent reality, how could it be otherwise?

      • @Kristor:

        Great way of putting things. It’s why the great Classical thinkers were all theists. All the truly profound thinkers seem to be. There are Atheist philosophers, but they seem so piecemeal in their methods and rarely form a single coherent worldview. Everything about the way moderns think is chaotic, at least once you touch the philosophical realm. They rarely stand back to see the broader scope of reality. Once you do, it is impossible to miss God in the tapestry. You can see Him in each little thread if you look hard enough, but it’s impossible to miss Him in the whole picture. Which is perhaps why, it seems, when I get atheists back to the big picture they often retreat from obvious transcendentals in order to examine the anomalies of the thread.

        I remember relatively shortly after I had been exposed to van Til, an opportunity to discuss the laws of logic came up with my science nerd peers in an academic club I was in at the time. We had just won a competition based on my knowledge of logic. This of course got their atheist/agnostic brains pumping because they were like “how can the religious fanatic know so much about thought when we don’t?” So, how could I possibly believe in God, they asked. I explained to them how rational order presupposes the existence of transcendentals, therefore God (tl;dr). Know what they did? Started denying the law of non-contradiction based on something to do with Quantum Physics! How silly, turning over something so necessary for thought itself over to physical experimentation and theory! But such is the modern way of thinking: Turning over logic itself to some mad scientist in his laboratory.

      • Ah, yes, I know the type. They are absolutely determined to adhere to their beliefs; determined to stick to the path that leads to nihilist insanity, rather than to the somewhat straiter, stiffer path that leads to the broad, verdant, sunlit uplands of reality and truth. And all in the name of truth.

        Why? Why prefer to despair, than to hope, and to dare? Why choose deliberately to reject reason? I suppose we cannot understand it; unreason is unintelligible, after all. Still, one grieves for such bright earnest spirits, leaping headstrong into the abyss.

      • Well, we can and we can’t understand it. I do not genuinely understand what is going through their minds, but we know, according to the Apostle Paul, that they have traded the Truth of God for a lie. It will undoubtedly infect more and more of them over time to the point they lose all touch with reason, truth, beauty, or anything good at all. What is morbidly fascinating is watching our society as a whole become infected by the lie more and more everyday. What’s amazing is no matter how much they see how insane the lies are becoming, the more committed they are to them. One day, it was tolerance for such nonsense as “gay marriage,” next it is forced celebration! One day, it was free speech and free thought. The next, it is the need to suppress “Hate Speech” and non-conformist thinkers.

        They’re committed to their false idols at this point and the only thing that will be able to change it is a genuine miracle of truly Biblical proportions.

      • Something or other of Biblical proportions, anyway. Is there a difference between a miracle of Biblical proportions and a catastrophe of Biblical proportions? As in, the death of all the first born of a nation?

      • Yes, a catastrophe would work as well. A catastrophe might be natural or “miraculous,” though. Depending on how you technically define miracle, I don’t see why God interfering to bring about judgment wouldn’t be a miracle. Of course, the judgment could come through nature taking its course on a society that has adopted national suicide and immoral sex in its various forms as high sacraments.

      • “Why? Why prefer to despair, than to hope, and to dare? ”

        For me it was perhaps a few things. One being that my father was ejected from my life and he then turned to illicit forms of income (and all the ruinous vices that came along with that) to escape supporting his children and his ex-wife, and my resulting self-loathing that came along with the realization that “your parents see you as little more than human luggage, an accessory.”

        And two, I was angry that God didn’t make the world as I thought he should- with its pain and suffering and nastiness. I was angry with God and disagreed with Him.

        Therefore He didn’t exist, and neither did I.

  3. Pingback: Ontological Integrity & the Possibility of Actuality | Reaction Times

  4. There’s a famous Eighteenth-Century debate, satirized in Voltaire’s Candide, about Leibniz’s thesis that this world is the “best of all possible worlds.” My own view is that this world is the most possible of all possible worlds, which I believe to be congruent with Kristor’s argument. (The world’s superlative possibility is attested by its absolute patency.)

    It is important that the unity of the world is an intuition (that it is intelligible only) and not a perception. Unity is an idea, like Plato’s Forms or Lucretius’s atoms, which strangely enough have the same qualities as the Forms: They are eternal and insensible, being present only to the mind and not to perception, via sight, sound, flavor, or touch.

    • I’d be interested to hear you flesh out the connection between eminent possibility and absolute patency. It has an intriguing ring to it. Is this world – is any world – *absolutely* patent? Once a given thing in a world has happened, I can’t see how; for, once x has happened in a world, it is no longer open to the possibility of being a world wherein x has never happened.

      Also, did you mean to say “most possible” or “most probable”?

      But in raising these two questions, I might be misconstruing you. Thus, the interest in the meat on those bones – or rather, on the ligament connecting possibility and patency.

      • If existence were Creation, existence would be what it is and as it is, absolutely. In other words, it would be patent (definitive in form and, as it were, copyrighted in full). The universe’s patency therefore guarantees its possibility. It say “possibility” because “possibility” is etymologically a more powerful descriptor than “probability.” The phrase, “of the highest possibility,” strikes me as rhetorically less self-doubting or uncertain in its tone and implication than the phrase, “of the highest probability.” The probable only follows on the possible. Another way of saying it is that the impossible can’t exist and therefore also can’t be probed. Then beyond that, I’m having a bit of fun with the Leibnizian thesis.

        The more important of the two things that I wrote is that the integrity of existence, the image of a cosmos, is intelligible rather than sensible. If knowledge can only be derived from sense-certainty, then the materialists are right, and there is no super-natural or meta-physical component to existence. I am reminding my fellow Tradents that the senses and the instruments that extend them are not the only avenues of knowledge. Things intelligible, like Plato’s Forms and Lucretius’s atoms, constitute a type of knowledge at least as legitimate as the ouch! that follows my being pricked.

        And do I not bleed?

        More or less seriously,

        Tom

        PS: Probability – Proboscis (nose) – What one can smell -The liberal blue-nose – “Blue-Nosery” – It only knows what it can smell. Let liberals measure existence on the beads of their Nosaries!

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