The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is often understood as simply “nothing is without a reason” (Look).

Although it may appear simple or obvious, the principle is often regarded as the foundation on which the Cosmological Argument is based (Cosmological Argument, 9). Rowe argues that all versions of the Cosmological Argument appeal to PSR (Cosmological Argument, 7) while some philosophers, such as William Craig, believe that it is only the Leibnizian version (Craig, 283). We will focus primarily on Leibniz, as PSR is generally accepted to be the key to his Cosmological Argument. First, we will examine Leibniz’s definition of PSR and some of his arguments used to defend it. Next, we will see how Leibniz uses PSR in the Cosmological Argument and why exactly it is the key to the argument. From there we will examine how many critics target PSR in order to collapse the argument. Finally, we will respond to those arguments and conclude that the Principle of Sufficient Reason can still rationally be held true. Although it is generally accepted that the Principle of Sufficient Reason has its roots in ancient philosophy (Pruss, 3), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) is most often associated with it as it was he “who distilled the principle and gave it proper expression” (Craig, 259). Leibniz, writing in the 18th century, employs several forms of PSR. These forms range from the most basic of “nothing happens without a reason” to more complex versions such as “nothing happens without a reason why it should be so rather than otherwise” (Ibid.). Leibniz’s definitions and how they are meant to be understood is a topic of serious debate, but for the sake of simplicity we will adapt Rowe’s interpretation. Rowe defines PSR as the principle that “there must be an explanation (a) of the existence of any being and (b) of any positive fact whatever” (Philosophy of Religion, 23). Given this definition we might ask why Leibniz held this principle to be true. Although Leibniz gave no formal defence of PSR, he does indicate “two lines of defence: an a priori and an a posteriori justification” (Craig, 263). Some might argue that lack of proof is evidence against PSR. However, Leibniz makes it clear that he regards PSR as self-evident; proof of


which is simply strange to ask for (Fifth Paper, para. 18). The position that PSR is self-evident is not unique to Leibniz and is, according to Pruss, an explanation of why there are so few arguments in favour of PSR. He argues that “philosophers who accept PSR typically do so because they take it to be self-evident and hence in need only of refinement and defence from attempts at disproof, but not in need of proof” (Pruss, 14). Rowe refers to this as a claim that “PSR is (or can be) known intuitively to be true” (Phil. of Religion, 31). From this, Leibniz asserts “that all truths…have a proof a priori or some reason why they are rather than not” (Craig, 264). Leibniz also employs an a posteriori argument to defend PSR. He argues that a great deal of fields such as metaphysics, physics and moral science rely on PSR to discover truths. If there were no PSR then we would be unable to know many truths. Surely, asks a critic, there must be other truths discovered in fields other than those mentioned above? Other truths obtained through fields such as mathematics are proven by Leibniz’s Principle of Contradiction (PC): “that a proposition cannot be true and false at the same time” (Craig, 268). Although PC is important, it is not the subject of this paper. However, we can now realize that PSR is meant to apply to anything outside the realm of mathematics. This argument is “pragmatically justified” (Craig, 267) and without it we would not be able to distinguish truth from fantasy. Leibniz argues that we need PSR to understand our world, and without it we are lost. But what evidence do we have that PSR is necessary for our understanding? Leibniz would simply reply that everybody has made use of PSR, maybe even thousands of times (Fifth Paper,para. 127). This is undeniably evidence from experience. Leibniz seems to hold that PSR is a presupposition in our dealings with the world. This would mean that “all of our inductive reasoning presupposes the validity of [PSR]” (Craig, 268). In addition to pragmatic justification, Leibniz argues that PSR has never


been proven false and that every faulty criticism reaffirms the validity of the principle. Surely, no stronger a priori argument can be demonstrated (Ibid.). Now that we have examined Leibniz’s arguments for PSR we will see how he applies PSR to the Cosmological Argument. The Cosmological Argument has a goal of proving the existence of God, and attempts to do so in two parts (Cosmological Argument, 6). The first part of the argument is to establish that there must be some sort of necessary being or first cause which explains the existence of all contingent beings. The second part of the argument is to prove that this being or first cause is the God of theism. The Principle of Sufficient Reason, as Leibniz conceives it, is absolutely essential in order to establish the first part. Leibniz admits “that without this great Principle, one cannot prove the existence of God” (Fifth Paper, para. 126). If PSR is granted, “it follows that there is a necessary first cause of the cosmos” (Pruss, 4). PSR is thus required to establish the first part; without it the Cosmological Argument crumbles. Given the key role of PSR, we can now see why critics have made PSR the target of choice for taking down the argument as a whole. David Hume, being a critic of the Leibniz’s a priori argument above, argues that PSR is not necessarily true. Contrary to Leibniz, who argued that PSR can be known intuitively, Hume argues that there is no evidence to make that assumption. It appears that “not everyone who has reflected on PSR has been persuaded that it is true, and some are persuaded…to think it is false” (Phil. of Religion, 31). This “dialectical dead end” (Pruss, 14) leaves work for those who subscribe to PSR. Leibniz’s argument that PSR is self-evident is not so persuasive when it is not evident for other individuals. It is even less persuasive when individuals—after reflection— believe PSR to be false. Hume’s objection does raise questions over what Leibniz held to be certain: why should we believe PSR over other explanations? Why do we need to believe that all beings have an explanation if we can imagine other possibilities?


William Rowe argues against Leibniz’s a posteriori argument above. Leibniz argued that humans presuppose PSR everyday, and that without PSR we would not be able to make sense of our world. At first Rowe rejects this notion, or at least comes to the conclusion that it is doubtful that PSR is a presupposition (Cosmological Argument, 93). However, Rowe decides to allow the presupposition just to see if it makes Leibniz’s case any better. Rowe concludes that just because we presuppose PSR (if, in fact, we actually do) does not mean PSR is true (Ibid.). He argues that just because we presuppose an explanation of every being, it does not follow that nature is bound to satisfy those presuppositions (Ibid.). Despite these objections, we must consider Leibniz’s assertion that because no argument has succeeded in proving PSR false, its truth is reaffirmed with every faulty argument. If one were to prove the falsity of PSR then one would have to prove that there exists at least one thing or fact that has no explanation of its existence (Cosmological Argument, 95-96). One of the most common arguments claiming to meet the criteria above is “that quantum mechanics on its leading interpretations is incompatible with PSR, and hence PSR is empirically seen to be false” (Pruss, 14). Some leading physicists argue that some components of quantum physics have no cause. If this is the case, then it has been demonstrated that there exists some things (quantum particles) which have no cause for their existence. This is the last of the objections this paper sought to examine. From here we go on to see what is left of PSR, and we will see that it is still rationally acceptable. In response to Hume above, I would employ more or less the same argument as Pruss in defence of PSR (Pruss, Ch. 11). Although Leibniz does not prove PSR to be self-evident, it does not follow that PSR is not self-evident. For Hume there seems to be some issue with accepting PSR because it is not self-evident to him. Indeed, a great number of philosophers and undergraduate students have come to view PSR as not self-evident. However, just because some


people do not see PSR as self-evident—or even possible—it does not follow they are correct. Pruss gives two reasons why someone would be sceptical of PSR, the first of which we will address below. As for the second reason, Pruss argues, and I agree, that a great number of people deny PSR not because it is the truth, but because they do not want to believe in God (Pruss, 189). “Theophobia is no excuse for rejecting the PSR” (Pruss, 14). However, a great number of philosophers who seek the truth and not justifications for atheism have come to deny PSR. Pruss argues that these philosophers have no grounds for denial because “there are no good arguments against the mere necessary existence of a creator” (Pruss, 189). He goes on to argue that these philosophers have, in all probability, come to misunderstand PSR (Pruss, 192). I am more sceptical of this argument as it would suggest that I potentially understand something philosophical that William Rowe does not understand. As to the point about no good arguments against PSR I am forced to leave the question open, for I suppose it is all one can do until such an argument is presented. To that end, I agree with Rowe that accepting PSR may well be rationally justified (Phil. of Religion, 31). For unless I am given reason to think otherwise, it is possible to maintain PSR to be self-evident. I think critics of PSR may well be justified in denial should they provide an example contrary to PSR. Quantum physics may well be that example. Similar to Hume’s argument, Rowe does not succeed in showing the falsity of PSR but rather leaves it in the realm of possibility. PSR may be a presupposition of humans and from that presupposition it may follow that PSR is true. Rowe does attempt to disprove a strong version of PSR but does not show it to be true for all forms of PSR. Quentin Smith, among other philosophers, disagrees with Rowe’s argument. I suppose I should not expect mathematical certainty in a philosophical answer, but it still leaves PSR as possible and thus rational to accept. As mentioned above, Pruss gives two reasons why people deny PSR. The first of these is that PSR renders quantum physics false (Pruss, 189). PSR may meet its end through quantum


physics but this argument is far from finalized. Bertrand Russell, in the famous 1948 BBC debate against F.C. Copleston, put forward the indeterminism of quantum physics but not necessarily to prove PSR false. Following Hume, Russell only wanted to demonstrate that it is possible that PSR may not be self-evident to everyone. Unlike some physicists, Russell agreed with Copleston that this indeterminism could possibly be a temporary inference (BBC Debate). This argument could slide either way: it could be another failed argument or it may be the first empirical example contrary to PSR. However, the question still remains as it was in 1948: unanswered. Given the above arguments we may argue that PSR, as Leibniz presents, may well be true. Despite criticisms of its proof or lack thereof, equal uncertainty may be ascribed to arguments contrary to PSR. Besides the status of quantum physics—which remains to be determined—the above criticisms give us no more reason to believe them than the arguments they criticize. Until sufficient reason is given to suppose otherwise, it is rational to believe PSR to be true. Contrary to some philosophers, the question remains open.