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    Contributor Speakpigeon's Avatar
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    Contingent truths?

    Here are a few possible truths:

    (s0) You've just found a lost wallet with 10 dollars in it.

    (s1) Joe has two legs.

    (s2) Humans have a brain.

    (s3) Trump was elected president.

    (s4) e = mc2.

    (s5) God doesn't exist.

    (s6) Atoms with ten protons exist.
    Assuming these are indeed truths, which ones do you see as contingent?

    Thanks for your answers.
    EB

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    Veteran Member Tigers!'s Avatar
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    s2 is very contingent
    NOTE: No trees were killed in the sending of this message, but a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

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    Junior Member Torin's Avatar
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    "Contingent" means "could have been otherwise." As far as we know, the only phenomenon that this genuinely applies to is human free will. A human choice can genuinely turn out more than one way, even if everything else is the same. Apart from human choice, everything results from the deterministic actions of physical matter, which has no capacity of choice and is therefore "necessary."

    So:

    (s0) You've just found a lost wallet with 10 dollars in it.
    Contingent. I could have chosen to walk some other way, in which case I would not have happened upon the wallet.

    (s1) Joe has two legs.
    Contingent. Joe could have chosen to cut off his legs (or accidentally stepped on a landmine, or whatever).

    (s2) Humans have a brain.
    Necessary. Evolution is a mindless physical process.

    (s3) Trump was elected president.
    Contingent. The voters could have done otherwise.

    (s4) e = mc2.
    Necessary. No one chose the laws of nature.

    (s5) God doesn't exist.
    Necessary. No one had the option to create God.

    (s6) Atoms with ten protons exist.
    Necessary. No one chose the number of protons that atoms have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Speakpigeon View Post
    Here are a few possible truths:

    (s0) You've just found a lost wallet with 10 dollars in it.

    (s1) Joe has two legs.

    (s2) Humans have a brain.

    (s3) Trump was elected president.

    (s4) e = mc2.

    (s5) God doesn't exist.

    (s6) Atoms with ten protons exist.
    Assuming these are indeed truths, which ones do you see as contingent?

    Thanks for your answers.
    EB
    1, 3, and 6 are contingent.

    2 is either a neccessary truth or not a truth at all, depending on the definition of "human". If one defines human as any organism sexually produced by human sperm and egg, then it is not a truth at all.

    5 is neccessary if "God" refers to the creator God that most people believe in, which is logically impossible.

    I have to think more about 4, but I'm leaning neccessary.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Torin View Post
    "Contingent" means "could have been otherwise." As far as we know, the only phenomenon that this genuinely applies to is human free will. A human choice can genuinely turn out more than one way, even if everything else is the same. Apart from human choice, everything results from the deterministic actions of physical matter, which has no capacity of choice and is therefore "necessary."

    So:


    Contingent. I could have chosen to walk some other way, in which case I would not have happened upon the wallet.


    Contingent. Joe could have chosen to cut off his legs (or accidentally stepped on a landmine, or whatever).

    (s2) Humans have a brain.
    Necessary. Evolution is a mindless physical process.

    (s3) Trump was elected president.
    Contingent. The voters could have done otherwise.

    (s4) e = mc2.
    Necessary. No one chose the laws of nature.

    (s5) God doesn't exist.
    Necessary. No one had the option to create God.

    (s6) Atoms with ten protons exist.
    Necessary. No one chose the number of protons that atoms have.
    Why are you adding the assumption that "contingent" requires a sentient mind to want it to have been otherwise?

    There are atoms without 10 protons. Nothing about the definition of matter or an atom requires that there be an atom with 10. Thus, even though no one chose the number of protons for any atom, the causal contingencies that produced an atom with 10 protons could have happened differently without fundamentally changing what atoms re protons are.

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    Junior Member Torin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ronburgundy View Post
    Why are you adding the assumption that "contingent" requires a sentient mind to want it to have been otherwise?
    I was clear about that: "'Contingent' means 'could have been otherwise.' As far as we know, the only phenomenon that this genuinely applies to is human free will."

    The logic here is:

    1. A state of affairs is only contingent if it could have been otherwise.
    2. A state of affairs could only have been otherwise if it resulted from human free will.
    3. Therefore, all contingent states of affairs result from human free will.

    1 is a conventional definition in philosophy. 2 is true within the context of what we currently know, so anyone claiming there are other sources of contingency would have the burden of proof.

    There are atoms without 10 protons. Nothing about the definition of matter or an atom requires that there be an atom with 10. Thus, even though no one chose the number of protons for any atom, the causal contingencies that produced an atom with 10 protons could have happened differently without fundamentally changing what atoms re protons are.
    What the word "could," underlined above, mean? I can imagine a world where every atom has fewer or more than ten protons, but what I can imagine has nothing to do with reality.

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torin View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by ronburgundy View Post
    Why are you adding the assumption that "contingent" requires a sentient mind to want it to have been otherwise?
    I was clear about that: "'Contingent' means 'could have been otherwise.' As far as we know, the only phenomenon that this genuinely applies to is human free will."

    The logic here is:

    1. A state of affairs is only contingent if it could have been otherwise.
    2. A state of affairs could only have been otherwise if it resulted from human free will.
    3. Therefore, all contingent states of affairs result from human free will.

    1 is a conventional definition in philosophy. 2 is true within the context of what we currently know, so anyone claiming there are other sources of contingency would have the burden of proof.

    There are atoms without 10 protons. Nothing about the definition of matter or an atom requires that there be an atom with 10. Thus, even though no one chose the number of protons for any atom, the causal contingencies that produced an atom with 10 protons could have happened differently without fundamentally changing what atoms re protons are.
    What the word "could," underlined above, mean? I can imagine a world where every atom has fewer or more than ten protons, but what I can imagine has nothing to do with reality.
    Usually, the distinction is made between something that is logically necessary and something which just happens to naturally be true. Contingent truths are not contingent because of human free will, they are contingent because they are not logically fixed. Something is contingent because there is no logical contradiction involved in its going other than it does, even if physical constraints do not allow it to do so in reality. For example, in a lottery where the winner is picked by a computer program, winning the lottery would be from your perspective very lucky, since it could have very easily been otherwise if the computer had picked a different number. Your winning, in other words, was contingent on that number (yours) and no other being the one generated by the computer. It doesn't matter that the computer generated it according to strictly deterministic principles, it only matters that there were many other possible deterministic paths that could logically have been taken if the initial conditions were different. So, "I am the winner of the lottery that was selected by a computer program" is a contingent statement, not a necessary one, even though it describes something that did not result from human free will (which by the way is also generated according to strictly deterministic principles, so the comparison need not have been invoked in the first place).

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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Torin View Post
    I was clear about that: "'Contingent' means 'could have been otherwise.' As far as we know, the only phenomenon that this genuinely applies to is human free will."

    The logic here is:

    1. A state of affairs is only contingent if it could have been otherwise.
    2. A state of affairs could only have been otherwise if it resulted from human free will.
    3. Therefore, all contingent states of affairs result from human free will.

    1 is a conventional definition in philosophy. 2 is true within the context of what we currently know, so anyone claiming there are other sources of contingency would have the burden of proof.


    What the word "could," underlined above, mean? I can imagine a world where every atom has fewer or more than ten protons, but what I can imagine has nothing to do with reality.
    Usually, the distinction is made between something that is logically necessary and something which just happens to naturally be true. Contingent truths are not contingent because of human free will, they are contingent because they are not logically fixed. Something is contingent because there is no logical contradiction involved in its going other than it does, even if physical constraints do not allow it to do so in reality. For example, in a lottery where the winner is picked by a computer program, winning the lottery would be from your perspective very lucky, since it could have very easily been otherwise if the computer had picked a different number. Your winning, in other words, was contingent on that number (yours) and no other being the one generated by the computer. It doesn't matter that the computer generated it according to strictly deterministic principles, it only matters that there were many other possible deterministic paths that could logically have been taken if the initial conditions were different. So, "I am the winner of the lottery that was selected by a computer program" is a contingent statement, not a necessary one, even though it describes something that did not result from human free will (which by the way is also generated according to strictly deterministic principles, so the comparison need not have been invoked in the first place).
    Agreed. "Could have been otherwise" does not mean it isn't a result of deterministic causality, nor does it require that everything that happens to be true about the universe remain as it is. Basically, if the material world could be imagined without that claim being true but with the concepts within the claim retaining their basic definitions, then it is a contingent truth. If you have to change the definitions of the terms, then it's "neccessary" truth (aka "true by definition").

    "That cat has four legs" is contingent, but not b/c someone might have chosen to cut one off. It's contingent because had any of the causal contingencies that led to the cat having four legs been different, then the cat wouldn't have four legs. Since cats can be born with 3 or 5 legs and still be cats, it is a contingent truth that any cat has 4 legs.
    In contrast, "That cat is a mammal" is a neccessary/definitional truth, because there is nothing about the physical world you could change to make it untrue. To make it untrue, you must change what is meant by either the word "cat" or "mammal". Note that if we decided that the word "cat" only refers to a creature with 4 legs, then "That cat has four legs" would become a neccessary truth, even though "That animal has four legs" would still be contingent despite "that" referring to the same creature.

    The only truths that are not contingent are those that are made true as a result of the logical relationship between the definition of the subject and the predicate. That is why neccessary truth require no empirical verification, b/c they a made true by the words themselves. Whereas all contingent truths require empirical verification.

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    Junior Member Torin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Usually, the distinction is made between something that is logically necessary and something which just happens to naturally be true. Contingent truths are not contingent because of human free will, they are contingent because they are not logically fixed.
    I agree that this accurately represents the conventional understanding of the distinction. However, I'm a student of Objectivism, so I reject and revise the conventional distinction as explained in Leonard Peikoff's essay on the analytic / synthetic dichotomy, which was originally published in the appendix to the second edition of Ayn Rand's book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

    Link (in case you're interested): https://campus.aynrand.org/works/196...ichotomy/page1

    I understand that you might not have the inclination to read Peikoff's essay, but I'm willing to explain as much as necessary for the discussion.

    Something is contingent because there is no logical contradiction involved in its going other than it does, even if physical constraints do not allow it to do so in reality.
    The premise here is that an entity without free will can act other than it does without a logical contradiction occurring. That's false, because the law of causality follows from the law of identity. The law of causality says that an entity will always act according to the properties that it has, i.e., its identity. Under the circumstances, any action other than one the entity took would contradict its identity. To act differently, it would have to be an entity with different properties.

    Let's consider your example in this light:

    For example, in a lottery where the winner is picked by a computer program, winning the lottery would be from your perspective very lucky, since it could have very easily been otherwise if the computer had picked a different number. Your winning, in other words, was contingent on that number (yours) and no other being the one generated by the computer. It doesn't matter that the computer generated it according to strictly deterministic principles, it only matters that there were many other possible deterministic paths that could logically have been taken if the initial conditions were different. So, "I am the winner of the lottery that was selected by a computer program" is a contingent statement, not a necessary one, even though it describes something that did not result from human free will (which by the way is also generated according to strictly deterministic principles, so the comparison need not have been invoked in the first place).
    The reason this is incorrect is that the computer has a nature which causes it to operate in one particular way and no other under the circumstances. Given the particular properties of the circuits composing the computer, the inputs it was given, etc., there is no other way that the computer could have acted without a contradiction ensuing. For there to be any other result, it would have to have been something other than exactly what it was.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Torin View Post
    "Contingent" means "could have been otherwise." As far as we know, the only phenomenon that this genuinely applies to is human free will. A human choice can genuinely turn out more than one way, even if everything else is the same. Apart from human choice, everything results from the deterministic actions of physical matter, which has no capacity of choice and is therefore "necessary."

    So:


    Contingent. I could have chosen to walk some other way, in which case I would not have happened upon the wallet.


    Contingent. Joe could have chosen to cut off his legs (or accidentally stepped on a landmine, or whatever).

    (s2) Humans have a brain.
    Necessary. Evolution is a mindless physical process.

    (s3) Trump was elected president.
    Contingent. The voters could have done otherwise.

    (s4) e = mc2.
    Necessary. No one chose the laws of nature.

    (s5) God doesn't exist.
    Necessary. No one had the option to create God.

    (s6) Atoms with ten protons exist.
    Necessary. No one chose the number of protons that atoms have.
    What is human free will, and how is it distinct from the behavior of a chimpanzee, a dolphin, a lemur, a raven?

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