Response to Hsiao and Sanders on Existential Inertia and the Thomistic Contingency Argument

Tim Hsiao and Gil Sanders present a contingency argument here. I will address their argument in this post. (More specifically, I will only address their points about existential inertia and sustaining causation; I may or may not address the other components of their argument in a separate post.)

Before turning to their paper, let’s get clear on what existential inertia is, and let’s also get clear on some metaphysical accounts of existential inertia–i.e. accounts that aim to pinpoint that in virtue of which existential inertia obtains (if it obtains at all). Pay attention to these metaphysical accounts, since they will come up in my response to Hsiao and Sanders.

(And, of course, before digging in, CONGRATULATIONS to Tim and Gil for getting their paper published!!!)

0 Outline

Here’s an outline of my post:

1 What is existential inertia?
2 Clarifying the thesis
—–2.1 Scope
—–2.2 Modal register
—–2.3 Dependence and Destruction
—–2.4 Metaphysical accounts
3 Thesis and Temporal Ontology
4 Metaphysical Accounts
—–4.1 Necessary Temporal Foundation (NTF) Account
—–4.2 No Mystery (NM) Account
—–4.3 Primitive Necessity (PN) Account
—–4.4 Trans-temporal Relation (TR) Account
—–4.4.1 Past Explanations
5 Hsiao and Sanders on sustaining causes
6 Hsiao and Sanders on the objection from existential inertia
7 Conclusion

1 What is existential inertia?

As Beaudoin characterizes it, “[a]n object enjoying existential inertia will continue to exist, without being sustained in existence by any external agent, until something else comes along and destroys it.” (2007, p. 86). Along similar lines, Adler views the thesis as affirming that “[c]ontingent individuals continue in existence, once given existence, until counteracting causes intervene to deprive them of their existence” (1980, p. 125). Feser follows suit: “the world of contingent things, once it exists, will tend to continue in existence on its own at least until something positively acts to destroy it” (2011, p. 239).

Audi’s characterization of existential inertia differs from the above conceptions: “Whatever exists is poised to continue to exist if undisturbed and inactive” (2019, p. 2), where x’s being poised to A implies that “there are circumstances C such that if x is in C, x will A” (2019, p. 4). Audi continues: “By ‘undisturbed’, I mean not being causally influenced by anything else. By ‘inactive’, I mean not undergoing internal causal processes” (2019, p. 4). Moreover, for Audi, the domain over which the thesis quantifies is unrestricted: natural or supernatural, structurally simple or complex, fundamental or non-fundamental, necessary or contingent.

Young-Joe’s [henceforth, “Schmid”] characterization differs further still in its domain of quantification and modal register:

Existential Inertia Thesis (EIT): Necessarily, concrete objects (i) persist in existence (once in existence) without requiring a continuously concurrent sustaining cause of their existence and (ii) cease to exist only if caused to do so. (Schmid 2020, p. 3)

Given the wide variety of (incompatible) characterizations of the inertial thesis in the literature, much conceptual clarity is needed in the debate. In particular, both defenders and detractors of the inertial thesis need clarity on each of the following: (i) its domain of quantification, (ii) its modal register, (iii) the kind of ontological dependence it denies of inertially persistent things, (iv) the factors that do or can destroy inertially persistent things, (v) that in virtue of which inertial persistence obtains (if it obtains at all), and (vi) its relation to temporal ontology. Surprisingly little attention in debates concerning existential inertia has been paid to disentangling and precisifying each of these distinct elements of the inertial thesis. Thus, in the following sections, I tackle (i)-(vi) in turn.

2 Clarifying the Thesis

My principal purpose in this section is to uncover a series of questions to clarify and taxonomize inertial theses. While I will take sides on some of these questions, my principal focus is the taxonomic questions themselves, since my ultimate aim is to bring much needed clarity and precision in debates concerning existential inertia. The taxonomic questions lay the foundation for my characterization of existential inertia in Section 3.

2.1 Scope

What kinds of ontological items inertially persist? Audi’s inertial thesis, as we’ve seen, is completely unrestricted in scope: whatever exists is poised to continue to exist if undisturbed and inactive. This seems implausible, however. Suppose abstracta (non-spatiotemporal, acausal entities like universals, propositions, mathematical objects, etc.) exist. Because abstracta don’t enter into causal relations, they are undisturbed and inactive. Audi’s unrestricted thesis therefore entails that such abstract objects are poised to continue or persist in existence. But surely this is a category error—abstract objects, qua non-temporal, cannot possibly ‘persist’ or ‘continue’ in existence; they simply tenselessly and timelessly exist simpliciter. Persistence is similarly a category error if applied to non-temporal concreta (if they exist).

We therefore have the first two scope questions that any inertial thesis must answer: Does it quantify over temporal or atemporal things (or both)? Does it quantify over concreta or abstracta (or both)? For reasons just articulated, we think it should quantify only over temporal concreta.

Assuming we quantify over temporal concreta, a third scope question arises: what kind of temporal concreta—objects, events, concrete states of affairs, etc.—inertially persist? Beaudoin quantifies both over concrete objects and ‘the world’, while both Adler and Schmid quantify solely over concrete objects (i.e. individuals or substances like rocks, trees, particles, etc.). If events, concrete states of affairs, etc. exist in addition to concrete objects, then Audi quantifies over them as well.

By my lights, however, the standard differences between concrete objects and events renders this latter commitment of Audi’s thesis implausible. At least in debates concerning inertial persistence, objects are standardly pictured as enduring continuants that persist by being wholly present at each time at which they exist. But events are not like this. Standard accounts of events picture them as perduring occurents that take up (rather than persist as wholes throughout) time and have various parts or stages at different times (Casati and Varzi 2020; Simons 2000; Mellor 1980). Thus, events as such (standardly conceived) are not candidates for continuance or persistence over time. Similar points apply to concrete states of affairs. For this reason, I restrict my domain of quantification solely to concrete objects.

A fourth scope question concerns whether all temporal concrete objects inertially persist or only some proper subset of them. In particular, should the thesis only quantify over the most fundamental (basic, foundational, ultimate, not explained in terms of some further, underlying reality) temporal concrete objects? Both Beaudoin and Schmid express the possibility of the inertial thesis quantifying solely over the fundamental layer of temporal concrete reality. Beaudoin, for instance, writes:

“[L]et us assume that our world is made up at the most basic level of some physically indivisible, non-composite type of particle akin to a Democritean atom, of which there are many tokens. … [W]hether there is a tendency on the part of these atoms to maintain their present complex arrangements, over and above their bare existence, is one that, strictly speaking, the inertialist may leave open.” (2007, p. 86)

Likewise with Schmid:

“An alternative formulation quantifies not over concrete objects simpliciter but instead on a subset of them—the fundamental, underlying physical stuff of the material world (whatever its intrinsic nature). Under this formulation, the inertialist holds that there is something possessing existential inertia out of which the composite physical objects of the world are constructed”. (2020, fn. 6)

In principle, then, the inertial thesis leaves open whether it quantifies over all temporal concrete objects or instead only some subset thereof. This leaves open potential explanatory relations (grounding, efficient sustaining causation, etc.) that might obtain between the fundamental or foundational temporal concrete objects and the non-fundamental, non-foundational ones. On its own, then, the inertial thesis is compatible with some concurrent ontological dependence among temporal concrete objects. As we shall see, my articulation of the inertial thesis will leave the fourth scope question open.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that nothing in the inertial thesis demands quantification solely over material objects. Perhaps neutral monism is true, or perhaps there exist non-physical temporal concrete objects (like a panentheistic or neo-classical theistic God, say).[1] So long as such temporal objects persist in existence without some kind of conserving activity that continuously keeps them in being, they inertially persist. Existential inertia is fundamentally about continuance in existence in the absence of both (i) conserving or sustaining activity from without and (ii) sufficiently destructive factors operative. The inertial thesis thus applies to temporal concrete objects satisfying (i) and (ii) regardless of whether they’re material or immaterial, physical or non-physical, necessary or contingent.[2]

Disentangling these questions (and the ones in the subsequent subsections) has largely been overlooked in the literature thus far. This is unfortunate, since ruling out or justifying one inertial thesis doesn’t automatically rule out or justify other inertial theses. I turn next to the modal register of the thesis.

2.2 Modal Register

Here’s the first modal question: is the inertial thesis necessarily true if true at all? Explicit inclusion of the necessity operator is only found in Schmid’s EIT. And while I agree that “because existential inertia and existential expiration are (or would be) such broad, foundational metaphysical features of reality, it seems that they would necessarily obtain if they obtain at all” (Schmid 2020, p. 2), I will leave open the modal register of my (to-be-articulated) thesis.

The second modal question is: do the temporal concrete objects within the domain of quantification actually persist without continual conservation/sustenance, or do they merely persist without requiring continual conservation/sustenance? The former entails the latter, but not vice versa. Recall that Schmid’s EIT only says that objects persist without requiring sustaining causes. Importantly, though, this is perfectly compatible with actually having sustaining causes. Schmid’s EIT therefore does not rule out (at least in principle) a scenario in which all temporal concrete objects are continuously conserved or sustained in being from without. In other words, Schmid’s EIT is compatible with nothing inertially persisting. This seems implausible. By my lights, this scenario should be ruled out by any inertial thesis. My thesis, then, shall affirms that some objects actually inertially persist.

2.3 Dependence and Destruction

Still further taxonomic questions concern the kind of ontological dependence denied of inertially persistent objects. The inertial theses of Schmid and Audi only deny the concurrent efficient causal dependence of inertially persistent objects on other things. But this seems too weak. Suppose all temporal concrete objects have a sustaining explanation not in terms of an efficient cause but instead in terms of a ground.[3] In that case, every temporal concrete object is concurrently dependent on some ground. And surely no temporal objects in this scenario enjoy existential inertia. It won’t suffice, then, for an inertial thesis to deny only concurrent efficient causal dependence. One dependence question, then, is: what kind of (concurrent) dependence is denied of inertially persistent objects?

Plausibly, inertial theses should affirm that, for each O within the scope of the inertial thesis, O’s existence does not concurrently ontologically depend on any O* that is not part of O. For, presumably, any composite O ontologically depends (at least in some sense) on O’s parts. In order to maintain any plausibility, then, inertial theses should allow constitutive dependence. What they should deny is that inertially persistent objects are either concurrently caused by or grounded in or realized by things wholly outside them.

What about destruction? What does it take to destroy inertially persistent things, to make them cease to exist? As with sustenance, Schmid’s and Audi’s inertial theses are cast in terms of causal destruction. But, plausibly, we should broaden this to include uncaused but grounded destruction of inertial objects.

Moreover, if absences can serve as causes, then Schmid’s EIT is perfectly compatible with every temporal concrete object being continuously sustained in existence (even though—ex hypothesi—they do not require sustenance in order to persist). In other words, the truth of Schmid’s EIT would be perfectly compatible with nothing inertially persisting—and surely that’s problematic. For if absences can serve as causes, then the absence or withdrawal of (say) divine timeless conservation/sustenance of O (for any O within EIT’s scope) might plausibly be a cause of O’s ceasing to exist, such that any actual withdrawal of such conserving power causes the cessation of O. But in such a scenario, both (i) and (ii) of Schmid’s EIT are satisfied: (i) O persists without requiring sustenance (we are supposing), and (ii) O ceases only if caused to cease (by a withdrawal of God’s sustaining power, say). Schmid’s EIT therefore entails EIT’s truth even in a situation wherein nothing inertially persists. And this is implausible.

This problem will likely afflict any inertial thesis that references causal destruction of inertially persistent objects. To avoid controversial debates about causal relata, then, inertial theses should generally be cast in terms of positive destruction—some positive activity performed on O (either from within or from without) that makes O cease to exist. This avoids altogether the question of whether absences can serve as causes.

I turn to my penultimate taxonomic question next.

2.4 Metaphysical Accounts

The central metaphysical question any inertial thesis should address runs: in virtue of what does inertial persistence obtain (if it obtains at all)? Beaudoin (2007) provides one metaphysical account while Schmid (2020) provides three (and takes issue with Beaudoin’s). For Beaudoin, O’s inertial persistence obtains in virtue of (i.e. is explained by) the following conjunction: (i) the only power capable of annihilating O has thus far been unexercised, and (ii) O lacks a tendency to spontaneously disappear (2007, p. 88). Schmid’s first account adduces the absence of sufficiently destructive causal factors plus transtemporal explanatory relations (causal or otherwise) obtaining between the temporally successive states of O’s life (so to speak) (2020, pp. 5-9). Schmid’s second account explains inertial persistence by the metaphysical necessity of said inertial persistence, with this necessity being primitive (i.e. not further explained) (2020, pp. 9-11). Schmid’s third account holds that existence is a state or condition of stasis or unchangingness (2020, fn. 19), presumably with the addition that states of stasis by their very nature diverge only when causally disrupted.

My aim in this sub-section is not to assess these metaphysical accounts; I will examine in more depth a variety of metaphysical accounts (including the ones just articulated) in Section 5. Instead, I wish to highlight the need for both defenders and detractors of inertial theses to address this taxonomic metaphysical question. In the following section, I articulate my existential inertia thesis and underscore a final taxonomic question based on temporal ontology.

3 Thesis and Temporal Ontology

Building on the taxonomic questions explored in the previous section, I articulate my inertial thesis as follows:

Existential Inertia Thesis (EIT): For each member O of a (proper or improper) subset of temporal concrete objects, and for each time t such that O exists at some time t* earlier than t, (i) at t, O does not ontologically depend on the concurrent existence or activity of some object O*, where O* is not a (proper or improper) part of O, and (ii) if O is not positively destroyed within the temporal interval [t*, t], then O exists at t.

My EIT incorporates my answers to and reflections on the taxonomic questions articulated earlier and avoids the various problems afflicting the thus-far-articulated inertial theses of Audi, Schmid, and company.

It should be clear that if my EIT is true, then Hsiao’s and Sanders’ argument does not succeed. For in order to infer the classical theistic God, we need something like a premise to the effect that temporal (changeable, etc.) concrete objects require sustenance or conservation from without. Without such a premise, the inference to the non-temporality (unchangeability, etc.) of the unsustained, unconserved being doesn’t succeed. Schmid makes this point in reference to Feser’s Aristotelian proof, but it extends to sustaining-cause arguments more generally. Simply replace Schmid’s uses of ‘act-potency composite object’ and ‘purely actual’ with ‘temporal concrete object’ and ‘timeless’, respectively:

“For suppose that there genuinely could be act-potency composite objects that exist of their own accord without requiring a sustaining cause of their existence (call objects of this type unsustained composites). If that is true, then the inference from the finitude of per se [i.e. hierarchical] causal chains to a purely actual being is undermined. It is precisely because any act-potency composite would require a sustaining cause that the first, unsustained member of any such per se chain would have to be purely actual. By contrast, if unsustained composites are genuinely possible, then the terminus of a per se chain of sustaining causation of other act-potency composites need not be a purely actual being but could instead be an unsustained composite.” (2020, pp. 2-3)

Before turning to a more in depth exploration of the metaphysical accounts of existential inertia, I wish to highlight the intersection between existential inertia and temporal ontology. In particular, I highlight a final taxonomic question any inertial thesis must answer: what is the temporal ontology within which the inertial thesis is articulated and understood? By ‘temporal ontology’, three things are included: (i) the ontological status of moments of time (presentism, eternalism, growing block, moving spotlight, etc.), (ii) the objective un/reality of temporal becoming (A-, B-, and C-theories), and (iii) the manner in which objects persist (endurantism, perdurantism, etc.).[4]

Debates concerning existential inertia tend to be cast uniformly in terms of endurantism (and, consequently, A-theory and presentism). But existential inertia may likewise be applicable—at least in principle—to perdurantism (and B-theory and eternalism).[5] Consider the following new, eternalist inertial thesis, where ‘O’s t-temporal part’ is O’s temporal part existing at time t:

Eternalist Existential Inertia Thesis (E-EIT): For each member O of a (proper or improper) subset of temporal concrete objects, and for each time t such that O has some t*-temporal part earlier than t, (i) O’s t-temporal part does not ontologically depend on the concurrent existence or activity of some object (or temporal part of an object) O*, where O* is not a (proper or improper) part of O’s t-temporal part, and (ii) if none of O’s temporal parts within the interval [t*, t] are positively destroyed[6], then O’s t-temporal part exists.

In essence, E-EIT states that an object perdures at non-first times of O’s temporally extended life without concurrent ontological dependence so long as nothing positively destroys O’s temporal parts (in the sense of actively preventing O from having later temporal parts).

Whether endurantism (presentism, A-theory) or perdurantism (eternalism, B-theory) is true, then, EIT—if true (or, perhaps, rationally defensible)—would plausibly provide a defeater for Persistence Arguments. And while I shall not here explore the relation between inertial persistence and other positions in the ontology of time (e.g. growing block theory), I’m confident that inertial views could be formulated for each such position.[7] Having articulated a series of under- and unappreciated taxonomic questions, and having precisified my inertial thesis and its relation to Persistence Arguments for classical theism, I turn next to an exploration of various metaphysical accounts of existential inertia.

4 Metaphysical Accounts

A metaphysical account of existential inertia is a (seemingly perfectly) coherent story on which existential inertia (as articulated in my EIT) obtains (or is true) and on which persistence is explained (i.e. non-brute). It aims to pinpoint that in virtue of which things persist (either inertially or non-inertially, as the case may be). For each account, I do not take stand on whether it is best or ought to be accepted. Rather, I offer such accounts to further the philosophical inquiry into the ultimate explanation of the temporal world’s persistence. There exists, as yet, no survey and appraisal of the various potential metaphysical accounts of EIT on offer. I hope, then, to redress this neglect.

4.1 Necessary Temporal Foundation (NTF) Account

I begin by articulating a first, novel metaphysical account of existential inertia. Given what I’ve said thus far concerning the scope of the inertial thesis—namely, that it can quantify over a subset of temporal concrete objects—the following account arises:

Necessary Temporal Foundation (NTF) Account: There exist one or more concrete objects (call them ‘N’[8]) such that (i) N necessarily exists, (ii) N is temporal, (iii) N is fundamental (i.e. N’s existence is not caused, grounded, or realized by any more fundamental object), and (iv) N’s existence and/or activity directly or indirectly explains (whether by causation, grounding, realization, or constitution) the existence of every non-N temporal concrete object at any moment at which it exists.

The NTF Account is a form of existential inertia because N is one or more temporal concrete objects that persist in existence in the absence of concurrent conservation and destruction. Six important notes concerning this account are in order.

First, the NTF Account leaves open the explanatory relation that obtains between N and non-N objects. It allows the relation to be one of efficient causal sustenance, or of grounding, or of constitution, or of realization, or what have you.

Second, the NTF Account differs from Schmid’s second account, since the latter aims to explain the truth of the inertial thesis in terms of the metaphysical necessity of its truth, whereas the NTF Account posits one or more necessarily existent temporal concrete objects to explain inertial persistence. The NTF Account is therefore more metaphysically heavyweight (as it were) than Schmid’s second account, though also (by my lights) more explanatory for that very reason. (More on this below.)

Third, recall one of the fundamental questions in debates concerning Persistence Arguments: what explains temporal objects’ moment-by-moment existence? The NTF Account provides a satisfying explanation: any non-N temporal object, at any moment at which it exists, is either caused by, grounded in, or constituted by some fundamental thing(s). Persistence of non-N objects, then, is explained in terms of some kind of conservation or sustenance. All that’s left to explain, then, is the persistence of N. And surely there’s an explanation of that at hand. Why does N persist in existence? Because (i) N is temporal (and so liable to persist), and (ii) N is necessarily existent—it cannot fail to exist and, a fortiori, cannot cease to exist.

Of course, there’s the further question of what explains N’s necessity; but notice that we are now no longer concerned with explaining persistence per se but instead some feature of N. And even if we cannot answer this further question, it doesn’t mitigate the explanatory efficacy of N’s necessity with respect to N’s persistence. The explanation is straightforward and illuminating, even if we don’t have further illumination concerning N’s necessary status. And, moreover, there are a number of viable proposals for explaining N’s necessity. A theistic solution might explain N’s necessity in terms of perfection (Byerly 2019); a non-theistic solution might explain it in terms of (i) an Aristotelian account of modality and (ii) the non-existence of causal powers capable of destroying N (Lo 2020); or (if self-explanation is coherent) the necessity might explain itself; and so on.

Fourth, there’s the question of N’s intrinsic nature or character: what might N be? For purposes of the NTF Account, we may remain neutral on this. Perhaps it’s a collection of fundamental particles, or mereological simples, or physical simples.[9] Or perhaps it’s some foundational quantum field, or the universal wave function, or gunk, or the neutral monist substance, or the priority monist universe.[10] Or perhaps it’s the panentheist or neo-classical theist temporal God. Options abound for the inertialist.

Fifth, if there’s a necessarily existent temporal concrete object, doesn’t this entail that the past is beginningless? It does not.[11] Following Craig and Sinclair (2009, p. 189), N may exist timelessly sans the beginning of time and temporally at and subsequent to time’s beginning; or, following Mullins (2014, pp. 164-167) and Swinburne (1993, pp. 208-209), N may pre-exist the beginning of metric time in a non-metric, amorphous time; or N may begin to exist in all possible worlds (thereby securing both the finitude of the past and N’s necessity); or whatever.[12]

Sixth, what if there cannot be necessarily existent concrete objects? I’m not convinced that there couldn’t be.[13] But suppose they’re impossible; a fortiori, Persistence Arguments for classical theism—for the necessarily existent, timeless, unchangeable, absolutely simple divine sustaining cause/ground of temporal objects—fail. Dialectically, then, this is not a strategy open to defenders of Persistence Arguments. Moreover, there’s a swift modification of the NTF Account that doesn’t commit to any necessarily existent concrete objects: simply modify it to say (roughly) that necessarily, some foundational temporal concrete object or other exists, even though no particular foundational object is such that it necessarily exists.

This, then, is the first metaphysical account of EIT. It is significant that there exists even one account of EIT on which persistence in existence is non-brute—that is, on which persistence is explained. And, as I hope to explain in the following sub-sections, there are many more workable metaphysical accounts of EIT on which the world’s persistence is explained.

4.2 No Mystery (NM) Account

Another metaphysical account of existential inertia—one I shall call the ‘No Mystery (NM) Account’—is more parsimonious than the NTF Account insofar as it does not commit to a temporal, necessarily existent concrete object.[14] The account—or, more accurately, cluster of accounts—explains the persistence of concrete objects rather simply and swiftly. (The name of the account is based on the claim that existential persistence isn’t all that mysterious and can be explained by a simple appeal to either an innocuous disposition or tendency, or the nature of states, or something similar.)

The NM Account, as stated above, is really a cluster of related metaphysical accounts, but they are united by their swift, simple, and minimalist approach to explaining persistence. There are at least two different forms of the NM Account. One form holds that inertial persistence is a kind of tendency or disposition. This form of the NM Account is articulated in Beaudoin (2007, pp. 88-89) and Benocci (2018, pp. 59-63) in the context of existential inertia, but it is also implicitly defended in Oderberg (2014, pp. 349-353), since Oderberg defends a tendency of concrete temporal objects to persist or continue in existence. Another form of the NM Account is based on the nature of states of stasis or unchangingness and is adumbrated by Oppy (2019) and Schmid (2020, fn. 19). My purpose for this sub-section is simply to outline and discuss these two forms of the NM Account. Recall, again, that my article’s purpose is not to establish the truth of any particular metaphysical account; instead, I aim to explore the accounts and, in virtue of doing so, inspire fresh inquiry.

Let’s begin, then, with the first form of the NM Account in terms of tendencies or dispositions. The earliest exposition of (something like) this account, as far as I’m aware, is Beaudoin, who is worth quoting at length:

“It is not part of DEI [the Doctrine of Existential Inertia] to suggest that the continuance of things is a brute fact. It is explained by reference to the facts (i) that the only power capable of annihilating the world’s fundamental material has so far gone unexercised, and (ii) that this material has no inherent tendency to just spontaneously disappear… Here again the analogy with mechanical inertia is illustrative: the continued uniform motion of a body through space is not to the physicist a mere surd. It is the outcome of the absence of any unbalanced force applied to the object, combined with its natural tendency to keep moving unless such a force is encountered. Of course, one may ask why the motion or existence of any object is characterized by inertia, and the inertialist in either context may or may not be able to provide an answer… But even if the existential inertialist cannot identify any deeper metaphysical basis for this form of inertia, this in no way invalidates DEI as an explanation of the world’s continuance; it is not a condition on legitimate explanation that a deeper explanation for every statement in the explanans always be ready to hand, or even that it exist at all. The inertialist may well run into a brute fact somewhere in his accounting for the world’s continuance, but it is far from clear that the proponent of DDC [the Doctrine of Divine Conservation] will fare better in this regard.” (2007, pp. 88-89)

For Beaudoin, then, temporal concrete object O’s inertial persistence obtains in virtue of (i.e. is explained by) the following conjunction: (i) the only power capable of annihilating O has thus far been unexercised, and (ii) O lacks a tendency to spontaneously disappear. For if O lacks such a tendency, then O will not spontaneously disappear unless some sufficiently destructive or annihilating factor—whether intrinsic or extrinsic to O—comes along to destroy O. This is part and parcel of what tendencies involve: O has a tendency to manifest some outcome or undergo some process in conditions C if and only if O, when placed in C, manifests said outcome or undergoes said process.[15] Thus, if O lacks a tendency to spontaneously annihilate (disappear, cease to exist) in conditions C—say, when not subjected to sufficiently destructive or annihilating factors—then O, when placed in C, will not annihilate. And provided that O is in C—provided that there is an absence of sufficiently destructive or annihilating factors, as specified by condition (i) of the abovementioned conjunction—it follows that O will not annihilate (i.e. disappear or cease to exist) but will instead persist.

Thus, according to Beaudoin’s account, in order to explain O’s persistence, we need only cite the absence of a ‘spontaneous annihilation tendency’ in conjunction with the absence of sufficiently destructive factors operative throughout O’s life up until the present. There is, of course, the further question as to why no such (sufficiently) destructive factors have been operative—why, in other words, the only power capable of annihilating O has thus far been unexercised—but this is a separate question from the metaphysical account of O’s persistence. And, plausibly, it won’t be all that difficult to provide plausible stories concerning the absence of such (sufficiently) destructive factors. Likewise, there is the further question as to why objects lack the spontaneous annihilation tendency. But it’s not clear why explaining this would be any more difficult than explaining why objects have or lack other tendencies. (And, to reiterate Beaudoin, it is not a condition on adequate metaphysical accounts of EIT that we have such further explanations ready to hand.)

A more precise and rigorous metaphysical account in terms of an inertial disposition is found in Benocci (2018), who emphasizes that “endurance theorists do not need any special metaphysical principle or postulate to account for existential inertia” (2018, p. 59). In particular, Benocci appeals to dispositions, which “consist in displaying a certain kind of manifestation under a certain kind of condition or stimulus” (2018, p. 60). He begins with an intuitive principle according to which changes an object undergoes reveal the presence of a corresponding disposition of which the relevant change is a manifestation. More precisely, “if an object a undergoes a change m in the circumstance c, then it has the disposition to undergo a change of kind M in circumstances of kind C, with m being a change of the kind M and c being a circumstance of the kind C” (2018, p. 60).

With this principle in hand, Benocci adds another principle to the mix, where a trivial disposition is one that manifests in all possible circumstances (and where it’s non-trivial just in case it’s not trivial):

Complementarity Principle: For any object x and any non-trivial disposition D to display a manifestation of the kind M in (and only in) the conditions of the kind C, if x has D then x also has the disposition D’ not to display a manifestation of the kind M in (and only in) the conditions other than those of the kind C. (2018, p. 62)

In simpler terms, any object with a disposition D similarly has D’s complementary disposition.

Benocci argues that the principle is both intuitively plausible and free from ontological commitment. For although it may seem to require universals or tropes (since dispositions seem to be properties of some kind), the Complementarity Principle can be recast in terms that don’t quantify over dispositions as such but instead merely on objects’ being disposed in certain ways:

Complementarity Principle*: For any object x, if x is non-trivially disposed to display a manifestation of the kind M in (and only in) the conditions of the kind C, then x is also disposed not to display a manifestation of the kind M in (and only in) the conditions other than those of the kind C. (2018, p. 62)

From these principles, we have a recipe—so Benocci argues—for an account of existential inertia. For according to the Complementary Principle, any object with a disposition to destruct in (and only in) circumstances C likewise has a disposition to remain in existence in (and only in) non-C circumstances. And it is this disposition of an object to remain in existence that, according to Benocci, is “aptly called the existential inertia of that object” (2018, p. 62). All that’s left to add is that the relevant circumstances of kind C are those in which the object is subject to sufficiently destructive or annihilating factors. Benocci concludes:

“[T]here is nothing spooky in attributing an existential inertia to ordinary objects. To talk about the existential inertia of an object that is enduring is not different from talking about the ‘malleability inertia’ of a piece of iron that is not undergoing a compressive stress: in both the cases we have just an object that is not manifesting a certain disposition, and which on the other hand is manifesting the complementary disposition to remain in a certain state. With this in mind, the perturbation that makes an object pass away is simply a stimulus of the kind that makes it display its destructive disposition.” (2018, p. 63)

This, then, is the essence of Benocci’s strategy. For purposes of space, I shan’t delve further into the details of this first version of the NM Account—though, it is certainly ripe for such detailed investigation. Suffice it to note for now that it seems to represent a defensible, coherent, and ontologically lightweight metaphysical account of EIT.[16]

Now let’s consider the second form of the NM Account. Both Oppy (2019) and Schmid (2020, fn. 19) gesture towards this form of the NM Account, according to which (i) existence is a state or condition of stasis or unchangingness, and (ii) states of stasis by their very nature diverge to another state (or no state at all) only when positively disrupted. Consider Oppy:

“Potentials to remain unchanged do not require distinct actualizers; all they require is the absence of any preventers of the actualization of those potentials. In particular, things that have the potential to go on existing go on existing unless there are preventers—internal or external—that cause those things to cease to exist.” (Oppy 2019)

The idea here seems to be the following. States or conditions of unchangingness don’t require distinct actualizers to ‘keep’ or ‘maintain’ them in such states or conditions; only deviations from such states or conditions require a distinct actualizing cause. Furthermore, continuance in existence counts as a state of unchangingness. Such states behave inertially insofar as they remain as they are unless positively changed to some different state or no state at all.

The account takes its cue from one of Edward Feser’s foremost ways of reconciling mechanical inertia with the Aristotelian-Thomist causal principle (CP)—a principle adduced in a number of Persistence Arguments (e.g. the Aristotelian proof, Aquinas’s First Way). According to CP, whatever changes (i.e. transitions from potency to act) is changed (causally actualized) by something else in a state of actuality. Prima facie, CP is incompatible with mechanical inertia, according to which an object can uniformly move from point A to point B without any distinct actualizing cause of said change. One of Feser’s principal ways of reconciling the two treats uniform spatial motion as stasis or unchangingness rather than as the transition from potency to act. Feser writes:

“[P]recisely because the principle of inertia treats uniform local motion as a ‘state,’ it treats it thereby as the absence of change. … In this case, the question of how the principle of motion and the principle of inertia relate to one another does not even arise, for there just is no motion (in the relevant, Aristotelian sense) going on in the first place when all an object is doing is ‘moving’ inertially in the Newtonian sense. To be sure, acceleration would in this case involve motion in the Aristotelian sense, but as we have seen, since Newtonian physics itself requires a cause for accelerated motion, there is not even a prima facie conflict with the Aristotelian principle of motion.” (2013, pp. 239, 250-251)

As Feser points out, it seems entirely justifiable to understand uniform spatial motion as a state of stasis or unchangingness. But surely this equips us with a second form of the NM Account: persistence in existence is an absence of change. In fact, this seems to be the ordinary, commonsense understanding of persistence. Remaining or continuing in existence is commonly thought not to involve change but rather the maintenance of a state of actuality. We tend to think only that deviations from something’s state of non-existence or existence count as changes (i.e. either coming into or passing out of being).[17]

This second form of the NM Account employs a kind of Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) according to which dynamic changes of state require explanation in terms of some extrinsic cause or actualization of such a change, whereas maintenance or non-disruption of a state does not require an explanation in terms of some extrinsic cause which keeps the state non-disrupted or maintained. Instead, the maintenance or non-disruption of a state is explained in terms of the very nature of states (stable, unchanging actual conditions which are retained unless positively disrupted) in conjunction with there being no such disrupting factors operative. It is worth emphasizing that this view decidedly rejects there being any brute facts concerning the moment-by-moment existence of things. There is an explanation of persistence; it is in terms of (i) an understanding of existential persistence as a state of actuality as opposed to a dynamic transition from non-being to being at any given moment, (ii) the very nature of states as a kind of stasis or unchangingness (a lá Feser’s account of spatial motion), and (iii) there being (or having been) no sufficiently destructive factors that induce deviations from the state in question (viz. persistent existence).

In summary form, this form of the NM Account holds that persistent existence is a state of unchangingness or stasis.[18] By their very nature, states of unchangingness deviate from their actual condition only if there is some positive disruption of their condition. But is there any positive reason in support of it?

Here’s one potential reason. I offer it as a tool for fresh inquiry, not as a decisive, knock-down reason in favor of EIT. The reason hinges on the following eminently plausible thesis—or, rather, a thesis that strikes me as eminently plausible:

Deviation: If O is in condition C at t, then if there exist no intrinsic or extrinsic factors that cause, dispose, or incline O to deviate from C from t through t’ (where t < t’), O’s deviating from C from t through t’ would be inexplicable.

Let’s get our intuitions pumping with an example. Consider astronauts on the ISS who, upon placing (say) a pen in ‘mid-air’, observe the pen simply retain its location (at least relative to some reference frame) in mid-air without some kind of concurrent, sustaining ‘keeper-in-mid-air’. And this seems to make perfect sense: the astronauts placed the pen in position P; in the ISS, gravitational influences are so negligible so as not to count as sufficiently inclining factors to cause the pen to deviate from P; no other extrinsic influences incline it away from P; and there is nothing intrinsic to the pen (e.g. some intrinsic disposition or some kind of instability) that inclines it to deviate away from P. With these facts in mind, it would seem utterly inexplicable if the pen suddenly deviated from P. Absent any sufficiently inclining factors on the pen (whether from without or within), the pen will simply retain its condition (viz. being in position P).

But if Deviation is eminently plausible for things like spatial location, what principled, relevant difference is there between these (on the one hand) and existence (on the other)? Letting C be ‘spatial location’, it certainly does seem that something will retain its spatial location as a matter of explicability—it would seem to be inexplicable if it deviated from this condition without some intrinsic or extrinsic cause or inclining factor inducing this. But we can equally let C be ‘existential status’ (i.e. either existence or non-existence), and the same intuitions seem to apply. Once something is brought into the condition of existence, it retains such a condition as a matter of explicability; without there being factors positively inducing deviation, it would be inexplicable for something to pop out of existence. Similarly, if something’s condition is non-existence, it would be inexplicable for it to pop into existence without some factor positively inducing such a deviation.[19] There seems to be a symmetry between popping out of and popping into existence without some inducing factor. In motto form: explicability motivates inertial condition.

In general, there seems (by my lights) to be no relevant difference among conditions (whether things like spatial location or existential status). The intuitions supporting Deviation apply either way. All of this, moreover, supports EIT and—more specifically—the NM Account, since EIT is precisely the thesis that things continue in existence (i.e. retain their existential condition) so long as there are not sufficiently destructive factors operative (i.e. factors—whether intrinsic or extrinsic to O—that induce it to annihilate). Think back to the pen: the pen simply retains its location so long as there are not sufficiently powerful factors acting to move the pen out of its location. Far from leaving persistent existence unexplained, then, explicability seems to motivate inertial persistence. Once again, I stress that this is not a knock-down argument; it’s a tool designed to serve the blossoming debate around EIT.

Finally, I wish to address an objection to this second form of the NM Account. The objection runs as follows. This account is inapplicable to substances that are undergoing real (non-Cambridge, intrinsic) continuous change. If the substance is continuously intrinsically changing, then there is no ‘state of existence’ that can persist from one moment to later ones. Surely the state of existence of a substance includes all of its intrinsic features. If this state is continuously changing, something external to the substance must then be responsible for the substance’s persistence through such a series of distinct intrinsic states. What to make of this objection?

This objection invites a helpful clarification. The account in question does not hold that the total set of an object’s intrinsic features comprises the object’s ‘state of existence’. Instead, it only holds that the very being (existence, actuality) of the object as such is a state or condition of stasis. The object’s very being or existence is distinct from its continuously changing (accidental) intrinsic features, since the object can retain its existence (i.e. persist as one and the same substance) despite the gain or loss of such intrinsic (accidental) features. Hence, the very existence or actuality of the object is not the same as the total set of the object’s intrinsic features. And it is this very substantial existence or actuality that the account in question treats as a state or condition of unchangingness.

Here’s another way to think about it. Consider again the case of mechanical inertia. One of Feser’s reconciliations of CP with mechanical inertia is to treat uniform rectilinear spatial motion as a mere state or condition of unchangingness. In this way, it doesn’t involve the kind of dynamism that CP says requires a distinct actualizing cause. But when an object is uniformly rectilinearly moving through space, it may very well be undergoing a whole host of other, continuous processes of intrinsic change. These would—granting the truth of CP—require a continuously operative actualizing cause. But this doesn’t negate or nullify the fact that the object is still in a state or condition of unchangingness with respect to its uniform rectilinear motion. And so in this respect, the object doesn’t require a continuously concurrent cause, though the other respects in which the object is intrinsically changing do (or would). And this is precisely the proposal of the second form of the NM Account: although the object may be undergoing a host of intrinsic accidental changes (and thus may require continuous causes of such changes), the object is not undergoing the kind of real dynamism or change in respect of its actuality or existence that would require a continuously concurrent sustaining cause.

Thus, saying that such continuously occurring intrinsic (accidental) changes require causes is crucially different from saying that the very substantial being of the object as such requires a continuously operative efficient sustaining cause. Those continuous intrinsic changes only demand continuously operative causes that merely modify the accidental features of the object. But this is wholly separate from the need for an efficient sustaining cause of the entire object’s existence at each and every moment at which it exists.[20]

With this objection addressed, let’s now move on to another metaphysical account of EIT.

4.3 Primitive Necessity (PN) Account

A third account treats persistent existence (in the absence of both destructive factors and sustaining causes) as a metaphysically necessary truth:

Primitive Necessity (PN) Account: Inertially-persistent temporal concrete objects continue in existence (once in existence) in the absence of both sustenance and destruction in virtue of this being metaphysically necessary.

A number of notes are in order. First, x’s being metaphysically necessary surely provides (or can provide) an explanation of why x obtains. Why do one and one make two? Because this is metaphysically necessary. Why does God exist? Because God is metaphysically necessary.[21] And so on.

To be sure, I’m not claiming that metaphysical necessity categorically precludes any further explanation. Rather, I’m simply noting that metaphysical necessity is itself a kind of explanation of something’s obtaining (or, at least, it can be). Persistence, then, is not left unexplained. Of course, there is the further question as to why it is metaphysically necessary. Is there some further story to tell? Is there something further that accounts for its metaphysical necessity?

I do not propose to investigate proposals here. For purposes of the Necessity Account, we can simply treat this as a basic or primitive metaphysical necessity: the necessity does not obtain in virtue of any more fundamental facts. But does this violate the PSR?

It seems not. First, contemporary formulations of the PSR are typically restricted to contingent things, and for good reason.[22] Second, every explanatory account of existential persistence—including that adduced by proponents of Persistence Arguments—will plausibly bottom out in some form of primitive or basic metaphysical necessity (lest we admit either a brute/primitive contingency or else an infinitely descending chain of more fundamental explanations—though, even then, there is the further question of why there is such a chain in the first place, which will presumably be a primitive metaphysical necessity). Alternatively, if one posits that necessity is a kind of self-explanation (thereby avoiding primitivity), then the same self-explanation seems available (in principle) for the PN Account.

4.4 Trans-temporal Relation (TR) Account

Another account adduces the absence of sufficiently destructive factors plus transtemporal explanatory relations (causal or otherwise) obtaining between the temporally successive states of O’s life (so to speak) (a lá Schmid (2020)). More precisely:

Trans-temporal Relation (TR) Account: For each inertially persistent temporal concrete object O, and for each non-first time t at which O exists, O’s existence at t is explained[23] by the conjunction of (i) the state and existence of O at the time immediately prior to t and (ii) the absence of sufficiently destructive factors from the immediately prior time through (and including) t.

A few notes are in order. First, one might think that this account presupposes that for each time there is an immediately temporally prior time. But if time is continuous as opposed to discrete (such that for any two distinct times, there are infinitely many times between them), then it is simply false that there exists an immediately temporally prior time. By way of response, note first that even if the account works only under discrete time, it would still be significant if there were a workable metaphysical account of existential inertia assuming discrete time.[24] Second, the account does not, after all, seem essentially tied to discrete time. If time is continuous, simply let the temporal state immediately prior to t be some suitably small (perhaps infinitesimally small) non-zero interval of time with t as its later-than bound.[25]

The second note is that explanations of present things’ existence in terms of past things are not only legitimate but often indispensable. Present allelic frequencies in biological populations are explained (at least in part) in terms of past selection pressures and past reproductive behavior; discursive reasoning processes plausibly require not only a justificatory or reasons-based link between past consideration of the premises (on the one hand) and acceptance of the conclusion (on the other) but also a causal or explanatory link between one’s previous consideration of the premises and one’s present acceptance of the conclusion; and so on. In principle, there seems to be nothing debarring past things from explaining (causally or otherwise) the existence of present things.[26]

The third note is that the TR Account does not merely presuppose that O persists from the previous time to the succeeding time; instead, it provides an explanatory means by which such persistence obtains. It is precisely in virtue of the state and existence of O at the prior time—in conjunction with no (sufficiently) destructive factors operative—that O remains in being at the succeeding time. The explanans secures or accounts for (instead of presupposing the ontologically prior reality of) the explanandum (viz. the moment-by-moment existence of concrete objects, for non-first moments).[27]

Note also that the TR Account is not meant (by itself) to be an explanation of persistence simpliciter but is instead meant to explain O’s existence at t. Because it explains (or seeks to explain) O at t instead of O’s persistence, allegations of presupposing the prior actuality of persistence is misguided. An explanation of O’s persistence simpliciter arises with the conjunction of all the applications of the explanatory schema outlined in the TR Account to every t at which O exists (except for whichever t* is such that O begins to exist at t*). Of course, this explanation of persistence simpliciter still leaves open the question of why O exists in the first place. It only purports to answer why, once brought into existence, O persists without requiring continuously concurrent sustenance in order to exist.

Also note that the lack of sufficiently destructive factors is not what is explaining the persistence here. It’s the lack of destructive factors plus the transtemporal explanatory relation obtaining between O’s existence and state at t-1 and O’s existence at t. Neither one of these is individually adequate to explain it, but the proposal is that both—together—are jointly adequate. For simplicity, let’s henceforth treat this explanatory relation as the causal relation. (But remember that the account remains neutral on this.)

The account, then, states that there are transtemporal causal relations that obtain between the successive states of an object’s life. In this case, for any state and time in the life of an object, its obtaining requires an explanation from without; it’s just that the explanation is not in terms of continuously concurrent sustenance.

Note also that causation is a hallmark explanatory relation. Indeed, the classical theistic account of the persistence of temporal concrete objects typically requires that persistence be causes by a purely actual, timeless God. The only difference between this classical theistic account and the TR Account is whether or not the causation in question is sustaining or concurrent (as opposed to transtemporal).[28]

My final note is that the TR Account leaves open what, precisely, the relata of this trans-temporal explanatory relation are. Options include (where t-1 is the time immediately prior to t, and where t is a non-first time at which O exists): the event of O’s existing at t-1 causes—in the absence of (sufficiently) destructive factors—the event of O’s existing at t; or the state of affairs reporting O’s existing at t-1 causes—in the absence of (sufficiently) destructive factors—the state of affairs reporting O’s existing at t; or the conjunctive proposition that O exists at t-1 and that no sufficiently destructive factors are operative explains the proposition that O exists at t; or the successive states in the life of O itself could be the relata; and so on. (The ‘causation’ in question, moreover, can be variously understood. We might, for instance, follow D. H. Mellor’s discussion of the causation of stasis in Mellor (1998, ch. 9). Mellor distinguishes between factual and particular causation, arguing that something’s remaining unchanged between times t and t’ is merely an instance of factual causation. I shan’t explore this further here; my purpose for bringing it up is simply to highlight that the trans-temporal relation at play—if understood in causal terms—could be further unpacked in variegated ways. See also Saudek (2020, p. 92) on this point.)

Having clarified TR Account and defended it against the charge of circularity, I will turn next to the most important objection to the TR Account. Adequately examining this objection, however, will require a sub-section in its own right.

4.4.1 Past Explanations

The objection is that if presentism is true, only present things exist, and surely only things that exist can have explanatory efficacy. Hence, O’s existence at t cannot be explained by the past state and existence of O, since such a state simply doesn’t exist.

In response, it’s worth noting that many presentists are quite content with past states explaining present states. “After all,” writes Schmid, “it’s quite difficult to reconcile our ordinary, common sense explanatory practices—as well as our standard scientific practices—with a view according to which past states can have no explanatory force whatsoever. In general, although under presentism past states don’t exist, they used to exist—and that suffices in many philosophers’ eyes for legitimizing their explanatory efficacy” (2020, p. 6).

The primary motivation behind the objection seems to be the following. The causal relation, C, is an existence-entailing relation. When x stands in C to y, the relata must exist. Combining this with presentism entails that only present things stand in causal relations.

But why should we hold that C is an existence-simpliciter-entailing relation rather than an existence-at-some-time-or-other-entailing relation (whether past or present)? Edward Feser points out that:

Both sides would agree that there is a sense in which the relations in question entail existence. For example, both sides would agree that unicorns cannot cause anything, because they don’t exist and never did. But the presentist would say that some relations (such as a is earlier than b, and a causes b) require only that the relata did exist at some time, whereas the critic of presentism insists that the relations require something else. (Feser 2019)

However, “if the requirement is that one of the relata exist at t whereas the other exist at t*, where t* < t, but where both t* and t are equally real, then this is flatly question-begging against the presentist who accepts transtemporal causal connections” (Schmid 2020, p. 7). But if the requirement is instead existence simpliciter, then it’s “simply not one that the presentist would accept in the first place,” for to demand “that relations within the temporal realm must involve things that exist simpliciter (as opposed to existing now or being the sort of thing that used to exist) is simply to beg the question against presentism” (Feser 2019).

Overall, then, it seems that the presentist can happily accept transtemporal explanatory or causal relations. In the next and final substantive section of this article, I survey and assess the principal criticisms of EIT in the literature.

[1] For introductions to and articulations of neo-classical theism, see Timpe (2013) and Mullins (2016a).

[2] While Feser and Adler solely quantify over contingent things, Audi, Schmid, and Beaudoin leave open (in principle) quantification over necessary things. Beaudoin holds that an object inertially persists when it continues in being “without being sustained in existence by any external agent” (2007, p. 86), while Schmid’s EIT quantifies only over temporal concrete objects as such. And Audi’s thesis, of course, is unrestricted in scope.

[3] Pearce (2017), for instance, argues that God is the non-causal ground of the realm of non-God concrete objects.

[4] Another important taxonomic question—one that I shan’t explore in this article, as it would implicate me in debates extending far beyond my scope—is whether we understand the structure of time continuously or discretely. For my purposes in this article, I leave this taxonomic question open.

[5] There are different ways to spell out perdurantism. I simply mean the thesis that temporal concrete objects ‘persist’ over time (that is, are four-dimensionally extended objects) by having distinct, three-dimensional, temporal parts along the temporal dimension.

[6] Just as persistence must be understood differently under eternalism than under presentism, so too must ‘positive destruction’. As I understand it, to positively destroy a t-temporal part of O is, in effect, to actively prevent this t-temporal part from existing (such that the t-temporal part would have existed had the active prevention not occurred). In this context, then, to destroy a t-temporal part is not to act on some existing t-temporal part; instead, it is to actively prevent the existence of the t-temporal part. So: to destroy a t-temporal part of O is to act on one or more temporal parts of O in some interval [t’, t), where t’ < t, so as to actively prevent the existence of O’s t-temporal part.

[7] I do not characterize such inertial theses (i) for purposes of space and (ii) because the packages (eternalism, B-theory, perdurantism) and (presentism, A-theory, endurantism) are by far the most popular combinations of views among philosophers of time.

[8] I will use ‘N’ as a singular noun, but I stress that it stands for one or more objects of the kind articulated in the NTF Account.

[9] For a recent defense of an existential inertialist view on which the foundational temporal reality is a collection of enduring mereological simples, see Benocci (2018).

[10] For this last proposal, see Schaffer (2010).

[11] Even if it did, though, I wouldn’t find this terribly problematic, as I am not convinced by some of the standard arguments for the finitude of the past like those in Craig and Sinclair (2009). But this is beside the present point.

[12] I should note that while the proposals of Craig and Sinclair, Mullins, Swinburne, and co. are theistic, there is nothing inherently theistic about them; they can serve as models of N’s relation to time even if N is one of the non-theistic options articulated earlier (e.g. one or more fundamental fields).

[13] For a variety of arguments for at least one necessarily existent concrete object, see Pruss and Rasmussen (2018). See especially ch. 9, wherein arguments for the impossibility of necessary concreta are addressed.

[14] Though, of course, the NM Account is compatible with such an object’s existence.

[15] We can set aside the vast literature on masks and finkish tendencies/dispositions (cf. Martin 1994), since we are not concerned here with an analysis of tendencies/dispositions. For our purposes, we can either (i) simply build into the account that for all normal cases, persistence and destruction don’t succumb to the presence of finks, masks, and the like (which is a plausible assumption, since the examples of finks and masks are often outlandish or non-ordinary); or (ii) restrict our domain of quantification of the inertial thesis (and, consequently, the inertial tendency espoused in this version of the NM Account) to cases where finks, masks, and the like are absent; or (iii) simply include within C the specification that no masks/finks/etc. are operative; or etc.

[16] Another defense that things have a tendency to persist or continue in existence is in Oderberg (2014, pp. 349-353). Particularly noteworthy is Oderberg’s response to the charge that his ‘tendency-based account’ is viciously circular. It would take us too far afield to consider this here, however.

[17] Two notes. First, when I say ‘something’s state of non-existence’, I don’t mean there is an x such that x is in a state of non-existence. Instead, I mean that there does not exist an x such that x is in a state of existence. So, it would be more accurate to say ‘non-state of existence’ instead of ‘state of non-existence’. For ease of exposition, I will stick with the latter. But it should be understood that I mean the former. Second, I mean ‘change’ broadly construed so as to include coming into and going out of existence. Recall from Chapter 1 that under a more narrow construal of change as the acquisition or loss of properties, coming into and going out of existence do not count as changes. But we need not employ the narrow understanding here.

[18] This is not to deny objective temporal passage, just as treating uniform local motion as a state of unchangingness or stasis does not deny that things genuinely go from one spatial position to another spatial location.

[19] Speaking loosely with the use of ‘something’, of course.

[20] Here are two further responses. First: The continuous processes of change are only to the object’s accidental features, and thus only require causes that simply modify the object in various ways. But through such accidental changes, the object’s essential features remain unchanged and intact. And surely it is this unchangingness that matters for existential inertia, since the object persists so long as its essential properties remain unchanged and intact! Second: Essentially, we could grant that the second form of the NM Account is inapplicable to objects undergoing the kind of continuous intrinsic change specified by the objection. But this doesn’t undermine EIT, since EIT only applies to temporal concrete objects or some subset thereof. Thus, so long as some subset of temporal concrete objects (at the foundational layer of temporal reality, say) do not undergo the kind of continuous intrinsic change that this objection specifies, then EIT can avoid the objection in question. Whether or not there are such temporal concrete objects is a separate question, of course. But it’s significant in its own right if we have found a viable metaphysical account of inertial persistence that applies (or would apply) to such objects.

[21] At least, this is a response that many theists are wont to provide.

[22] See Pruss (2006). One reason for the restriction is that necessary things do not seem to cry out for explanation the way contingent things do (since contingent things genuinely could have failed to be, and hence there is a kind of puzzlement or mystery as to why they in fact are). Contingent things, precisely because they genuinely could have been on either side of the dichotomy between existence and non-existence, demand an account as to why they fall on one side of the dichotomy as opposed to the other. Necessarily existent things, by contrast, couldn’t possibly fall on the non-existence side of the dichotomy. Moreover, as Pruss ably argues, we simply don’t have an adequate grip on the nature of explanations of necessary things to categorically require explanations of them (consider, e.g., distinct but logically equivalent axiomatizations in mathematics in which there seem to be no non-arbitrary ways to deem one set of axioms (as opposed to another) explanatorily fundamental).

[23] The account remains neutral on the type of explanation at play. Depending on one’s other metaphysical commitments, it could be causation (including different types thereof), trans-temporal grounding (if such a thing is even possible; for a discussion of grounding at a distance, see Baron, Miller, and Tallant (2020)), counterfactual (or other) dependence, or other explanatory relations.

[24] Indeed, there have been some very recent developments favoring discrete time based on causal finitism, the view that every event, sate, or substance has a finite causal history. (For sustained arguments for causal finitism, see Pruss (2018), Erasmus and Luna (2020), and Koons (2014)). For if time were continuous, then presumably infinitely many distinct states could causally influence (whether directly or indirectly) a final state (e.g. the location of a particle at time t would be dependent upon or causally influenced/explained by the particle’s location at each of infinitely many distinct previous times; or my existence at each of infinitely many distinct earlier times causally contributes (directly or indirectly) to my present existence; etc.). Pruss (2018, ch. 8) argues along different lines that while causal finitism does not automatically entail discrete time, it still provides evidence for it.

[25] I’m not convinced that the account can work for continuous time, but nor am I convinced that it cannot. The continuity or discreteness of time is something deserving much more attention in debates concerning existential inertia. Pursuing this in the requisite depth, however, would take me too far afield given my present purpose of sketching different metaphysical accounts. (For an extended treatment of issues pertaining to the continuity of time, divine conservation, and explaining persistence, see Miller (2007).)

[26] Indeed, those sympathetic with classical theism are entirely free to recognize the legitimacy of such explanations. Consider, for instance, Pruss: “Plausibly, your existence at earlier times causes your existence at later times” (2018, p. 167). For further discussion of and justification for transtemporal explanatory relations (causal or otherwise), see Schmid (2020). Indeed, as R.T. Mullins points out, “many philosophers… find the following basic causal principle intuitive: all efficient causes are temporally prior to their effects” (Mullins 2020, p. 220). Cf. Swinburne (1994, pp. 81-90). (But for a justification and defense of causation’s being simultaneous, see Mumford and Anjum (2011, ch. 5) and Ingthorsson (2021, chs. 4 and 5.) It should be noted, though, that the TR Account says nowhere that all causation (or even most) is non-simultaneous. It only requires that persistence is accounted for (partly) in terms of non-simultaneous causation. (More accurately, it only requires transtemporal explanatory relations, not even causal relations.) At the very least, this seems to be a rationally defensible position—and defensibility is all that the metaphysical accounts of EIT (as far as I’m concerned) are aiming for.

[27] To put it another way: I simply see no circularity in the following explanatory schema. The thing to be explained is O’s existence at t. The explanation, according to the TR Account, is the (transtemporal) causal activity of O (its existence and/or state) at t-1 in conjunction with the absence of sufficiently destructive factors operative on O from t-1 to t. Sure, we presuppose the possibility that O persists—every explanation must presuppose the possibility of the explanandum—but the account provides a means or ‘metaphysical mechanism’ (as it were) by which this possibility is realized.

[28] One might question at this juncture: when is the causing taking place? In response, I note that this question is ambiguous. It is ambiguous between (i) ‘when is the cause causing?’, and (ii) ‘when is the effect effecting (i.e. being effected or brought about)?’. The answer to the former is the immediately prior moment, while the answer to the latter is the immediately posterior moment. And there is no tertium quid; we need not (and, I suggest, should not) reify the ‘event’ of the cause’s causing the effect. There’s just the cause and the effect, the former of which is immediately temporally prior to the latter. (According to the TR Account, that is.)

5 Hsiao and Sanders on sustaining causes

Hsiao and Sanders write:

“A being is dependent  if its existence at every moment requires some kind of explanation or cause distinct from itself. In other words, it could not exist without something distinct from itself imparting existence in some way.”

So, this is a tad imprecise. For there are explanations don’t that invoke causes and hence don’t invoke some kind of ‘imparting’ of existence. And even when such causes do involve imparting of existence, the relevant kind of causation need not be a concurrent, sustaining cause. But Hsiao and Sanders say “cause or explanation”, without any indication if they mean these as synonyms, or if they mean for their definition to be disjunctive to include non-sustaining-cause explanations (whether transtemporal causal explanatory relations or non-causal explanatory relations [e.g. metaphysical necessity, or constitution, or whatever]).

This is important, because existential inertia is perfectly compatible with the existence of everything at any moment at which it exists being explained from without. That’s precisely what the metaphysical accounts sketched above aim to do: where the relevant explanandum is O’s persistence over time (and/or O’s existence at any given non-first time of its existence), these metaphysical accounts adduce explanatory factors that don’t include the fact that O exists at t or that don’t include O’s actually persisting. Here, then, we have a moment-by-moment explanation of everything’s existence, and yet we nevertheless have the truth of EIT.

Hsiao and Sanders continue:

“Upon reflection, we see that the world is filled with such beings. For example, an ice sculpture is a dependent being in the sense that its continued existence depends on external conditions like temperature level. If the temperature were to suddenly rise to 10,000 degrees, then the sculpture would immediately cease to exist. Cold temperature functions as a sustaining cause that keeps ice sculptures in existence.”

This is misguided on numerous fronts. What is temperature? Temperature is mean molecular kinetic energy. In other words, it’s the average energy content associated with the movement or jiggling of molecules. But what molecules are we talking about? It won’t matter for the continued existence of the sculpture if the mean molecular kinetic energy to which we’re referring is that of molecules wholly outside of the sculpture. For if every single molecule within the sculpture (including the one’s on its exact boundaries) retained a mean molecular kinetic energy with a measured value below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, then it will persist in existence. Thus, the kinetic energy of the molecules wholly outside the sculpture are not sustaining causes. Thus, the kinetic energy of the molecules to which Hsiao and Sanders label as a sustaining cause must be that of the molecules within the sculpture. But in that case, the molecules and activities to which we’ve referred are merely proper parts of the sculpture, not efficient sustaining causes of its existence. They constitute the sculpture; they don’t continuously efficiently cause its very being. [As Ingthorsson (2021) points out, it’s (basically) standard in contemporary philosophy of causation and mereology to hold that the constitution relation is not an efficient-causal relation. Even if you disagree, I’ll give some reasons momentarily why this is so.]

Here are further reasons why appeal to parts won’t work for Hsiao and Sanders:

(1) First, as I explained in my previous post, EIT is perfectly compatible with things’ dependence on parts. For EIT principally concerns extrinsic efficient causal sustenance. And I’ve made that clear in this post. Recall my most recent and precise characterization of EIT: “(i) at t, O does not ontologically depend on the concurrent existence or activity of some object O*, where O* is not a (proper or improper) part of O”. Thus, my EIT already takes into account any dependence something might have on its parts, even if parts of efficient sustaining causes. My EIT, in other words, is cast in terms of O’s dependence on something outside O itself. And Hsiao and Sanders have not given us any reason (or pinpointed any examples of) such outside sustaining causes.

(2) Appealing to microstructural elements of the sculpture (e.g. its molecules, their bonds, the internal operation of laws, etc.) as a ‘cause’ upon which it depends simply undermines Hsiao’s and Sanders’ intended inference to an unsustained sustainer of the existence of everything apart from itself. For the microstructure of the sculpture is a component of it, and only ‘causes’ or ‘actualizes’ the sculpture in the sense that something ‘depends’ (in some sense) on its components. But upon tracing this causal chain of ‘dependence’ down to a first member, all we’re entitled to infer about such a member is that it is an uncomposed component of something, not an unactualized actualizer or unsustained sustainer of the very being or existence of the things in question. Hsiao and Sanders here have not pointed to something outside the composite object as an actualizer or cause of its very being; instead, they’ve merely sent us off on a regress of more fundamental component parts of something on which that thing ‘depends’ (in the sense of whole-to-part dependence). Their response, then, ends up doing more harm than good for their proof, since it seems one could easily accept that there’s some not-further-composed component part of a composite object. But this is many miles away from the God of classical theism, which isn’t a part of anything.

(3) The third problem with their point is that (i) the microstructural elements of the sculpture are parts of the chair, but (ii) the parts of something plausibly cannot efficiently cause (i.e. actualize the existence of) their whole. For parts of wholes seem in some sense less fundamental than the wholes of which they are parts; plausibly, they’re only intelligible with reference to the substances they compose. Their existence qua the things they are, then, presupposes the (ontologically) prior existence of the substance and hence cannot causally explain its existence. It seems that my arm cannot be the efficient cause of me, since its being my arm in the first place presupposes my existence as a substance. Fourth, it’s a component of Aristotelianism that parts of substances exist merely virtually (and hence only in potency); but only things existing in actuality can causally actualize the existence of something else.[2]

[2] See Feser (2014, p. 197) for the point about parts and virtual containment. Also important: while my final two points in this paragraph depend on Aristotelian views of substances, it is still valuable to bring to light incompatibility between Hsiao’s and Sanders’ point (on the one hand) and such (by my lights plausible) Aristotelian views (on the other hand). For such views are plausibly rationally defensible—and to the extent that one finds them plausible, one has pro tanto reason to reject Hsiao’s and Sanders’ point. (And to the extent that they don’t rule out such views, their point doesn’t succeed, since its succeeding seems to require ruling them out.)

Hsiao and Sanders continue:

“Likewise, you and I are dependent beings in the sense that our continued existence depends upon a myriad of physical conditions, including temperature, pressure, entropy, the strong nuclear forces holding our atoms together, and the laws of physics. Additionally, we depend on biological processes such as blood flow, breathing, cell replication, energy production, etc. in order to exist. If these conditions or processes were removed or significantly altered, we would cease to exist at that moment.”

But Hsiao and Sanders have merely pointed to component parts (or component processes) of things. But all the same objections just raised similarly apply here: first, this is a relation of constitution (or else material causation), not (sustaining/conserving) efficient causation; second, the kind of dependence they pinpoint is perfectly compatible with my articulation of EIT here [no one in the EIT debate denies that things ‘depend’ on their parts in the sense that if the parts ceased, and if the parts were essential to the thing in question, then the composite object would cease; I explain this further here] and doesn’t give us any reason to think there are outside/extrinsic sustaining efficient causes, which is precisely what they need to get to a classical theistic sustaining cause; third, such appeals actually harm their case, since they seem to debar an inference to anything other than a mere uncomposed component part of something; fourth, parts are plausibly less fundamental than their wholes, whereas sustaining causes are more fundamental than their effects, and since ‘more fundamental than’ is asymmetric, it follows that, plausibly, parts do not causally sustain their wholes; fifth, parts (at least under Aristotelianism) exist in potency, but plausibly only actual things can efficiently causally sustain something.

Hsiao and Sanders continue:

“Imaginary beings like those in your dreams would cease to exist the moment you cease thinking about them.”

Dreams and their contents are processes, not concrete objects in their own right, and hence this is not relevant to existential inertia as I articulate it (whose domain of quantification is restricted to concrete objects). It’s clearly no surprise that processes stop once the thing executing said processes cease operating. (‘Tis the nature of processes.) No inertialist denies this, or ever has (from what I can tell).

Hsiao and Sanders continue:

“Water would cease to exist the moment either hydrogen or oxygen (distinct parts) cease to exist.”

No one in the EIT debate, as far as I’m aware, denies that things ‘depend’ in some sense on their parts (in the sense that the whole would not exist were its essential parts not to exist). Moreover, I have already addressed this example above by means of my points about parts.

Hsiao and Sanders continue:

“Nevertheless, while your initial existence no longer needs them as an explanation, that does not mean your existence here and now stops requiring an explanation altogether. Your existence here and now still depends on distinct factors to sustain it.”

But the ‘distinct factors’ that Hsiao and Sanders adduce are mere component parts or processes of the human. They haven’t given any reason to abandon the EIT as I’ve formulated it here. And I’ve already argued that this isn’t plausibly a case of ‘sustenance’ in the sense of ‘efficient sustaining cause’. Rather, it’s more-so ‘sustenance’ in the sense of ‘constitution’ or ‘material causation’.

Moreover, bear in mind that the inertialist can perfectly well accept that the existence of O at t, for any time t at which O exists, requires an explanation that doesn’t cite O’s existence at t (for that would be circular). Again, this was the purpose of the metaphysical accounts I spelled out earlier. One needn’t invoke a sustaining efficient cause concurrently operating to conserve O in being at t in order to explain O’s existence at t.

Hsiao and Sanders continue:

“Another reason to think dependent beings require a continual explanation distinct from themselves is that existence is not built into their nature. For example, there is nothing in the nature of what it is to be a dinosaur that requires it to exist. It is possible for dinosaurs to exist or not to exist. Their existence is neither impossible nor required. Because of this, the “default state” of a dinosaur’s nature is non-existence.”

But it would be more accurate to say that they simply have no default state. And as I explained in Section 4.2, this actually can plausibly motivate inertial persistence: just as a cup does not occupy location L by default, it doesn’t follow that the cup needs some concurrent causal ‘keeper’ of the cup to maintain it in location L. (Indeed, we know this is false–compare the astronauts on the ISS.) Indeed, the cup has no default location whatsoever–neither L nor non-L. But what this means is that–plausibly–*once* the cup is placed in a given location, then–provided that there are no ‘net causal factors’ operative on L–the cup will simply *retain* its state of being in L. And this without needing something to ‘hold’ or ‘keep’ it there.

Hsiao and Sanders continue:

“Second, if dinosaurs did have existence built into their nature in the same way that being a reptile is built into their nature, then they could never cease to exist and would have to exist forever.”

But this is simply a non-sequitur, by my lights. (It doesn’t help that it isn’t defined what it means for ‘existence’ to be ‘built into’ something’s nature.) Suppose we think x is F essentially iff necessarily, if x exists, then x is F. This is a typical formulation of what is at least logically equivalent to (though probably not an informative analysis of) essentiality. In this case, though, existence is essential to everything, since it’s trivial that, necessarily, if x exists, then x exists.

In this understanding, then, existence is ‘built into’ everything’s nature in the sense that existence is at least predicated essentially of everything (and, if we think existence is a property, then existence is an essential property of everything within this understanding). But this doesn’t mean that things automatically or necessarily exist. It doesn’t mean that X exists because existence is essential to X. X would only be necessarily existent, under this view, if *necessary* existence were an essential property of X. But that isn’t the proposal under question. And merely from the fact that existence is essential to X, it doesn’t follow that X cannot cease to exist. All one needs to do is cause any one of X’s essential properties to go out of existence in order to cause X to go out of existence. I explain all of this in more depth here. Suffice it to note for now that Hsiao’s and Sanders’ point imputes an understanding of essence, existence, and ‘building into’ that the inertialist is well within their epistemic rights in simply rejecting.

6 Hsiao and Sanders on the objection from existential inertia

Hsiao and Sanders consider an objection to their Thomistic contingency argument from existential inertia. I will now address what they say there.

“For existential inertialists, existence is like a case that gets attached to a phone.”

So, I recognize that this is an analogy used to help illustrate the basic thesis of existential inertia. But to me, this analogy makes it sounds like existential inertia is some monolithic thesis with commitments concerning what ‘existence’ consists in. Inertialists, though, need not make such commitments. They can hold, for instance, that there is no distinctive positive ontological item in reality corresponding to ‘existence’. The analogy here makes it sound like inertialists treat existence as some positive ontological item that attaches to or conjoins to something (an individual, or perhaps a nature). But this is by no means an entailment of existential inertia (indeed, it is of questionable coherence to treat existence in such a manner). And while Hsiao and Sanders do not claim that it is an entailment, the severe limits of this analogy need to be kept in mind.

They then claim that existential inertia has “insurmountable problems”. But their criticisms are quite straightforwardly surmountable, as I will now show.

First, they write:

“The defender of EI would have to claim that existence is not built into its nature but becomes a part of its nature (in someway) after it is caused to exist. This would allow a being to explain its own continual existence without something distinct from itself.”

This is mistaken for many reasons.

First, it’s a mere assertion. No justification is given as to why this is what the defender of EI would ‘have’ to hold.

Second, nowhere do Hsiao and Sanders spell out what ‘existence being built into a nature’ consists in. But yet a clear, precise, and rigorous understanding of this is precisely what we would need in order to properly evaluate (and justify) the claim. Since they don’t do this, the argument remains underspecified. [Regardless, henceforth I’ll operate on my own intuitive understanding of what it consists in–maybe something like ‘existence becomes one among its essential properties’ or ‘existence becomes a proper part of its essence/nature’, or something.]

Third, EI says NOWHERE that a being “explains its own continual existence without something distinct from itself”. As I’ve already spelled out in this post, there are many different metaphysical accounts that adduce explanatory facts distinct from O at t to explain O at t.[Fn]

[Fn] Note: when I use all-caps, pleeeeaaaaseeee know that I am not screaming, lol. I’m just using it for emphasis, to help aid comprehension! <3

Fourth, it’s false that inertial persistence would somehow require existence to become built into something’s nature. By analogy, consider inertial location. In particular, consider that the spatial location is almost always (perhaps always) numerically distinct from the essence of the thing occupying said location. A cup, for instance, is distinct from a particular spatial location, since the cup can exist without being located at such a position. (This shows, moreover, that such a spatial location is not even essential to the cup, and nor does it ever “become built into the nature” of the cup.) But the mere fact that the cup’s particular spatial location is distinct from its essence (and not even included in its essence as one of its essential properties, and not even ‘built into it’) doesn’t entail that the cup’s being in this particular spatial location (at any moment at which it is in such a location) requires some kind of continuously concurrent external causal ‘keeper’ or ‘sustainer’ of the cup’s being in said location. Indeed, the opposite seems to be the case: we have good reason to think that no such continuously concurrent sustenance is required in order for the cup to simply retain its spatial position. (Astronauts on the International Space Station, for instance, let go of a cup in ‘mid-air’ and observe it to simply retain its position (relative to them, at least) without anything sustaining or keeping it in mid-air.)

What this shows is that inertial maintenance of location L does NOT require that ‘being in L’ somehow “become built into the essence of L”. But by exactly parallel reasoning to what Hsiao and Sanders provide (in the case of existence), such inertial maintenance WOULD require this.

At the very least, nothing Hsiao and Sanders say here gives us any reason to think that existence is relevantly dissimilar to being in location L. And that’s precisely what they would need to show for their argument to have any force.

Fifth, this fails to consider the various metaphysical accounts of EI: (1) The NM Account, under NEITHER of its two articulations, requires or entails that existence becomes part of something. They only need (in the first case) a tendency or disposition in conjunction with certain manifestation conditions, or else (in the second case) an understanding of existence as a state/condition of unchangingness in conjunction with a claim about the very nature of such states/conditions. (2) The PN Account says or entails absolutely nothing about existence’s becoming built into the nature of things. All the PN Account requires is a primitive commitment to the metaphysical necessity of inertial persistence. (3) The NTF Account, similarly, has nothing to do with existence’s becoming ‘built into’ natures of things. Instead, necessary existence is built into one or more foundational concrete objects, and these objects go on to continuously explain (whether by grounding, realization, causation, or constitution) non-foundational temporal things. (4) The TR Account similarly has nothing to do with existence’s becoming built into things’ natures. Rather, it says that transtemporal explanatory relations, in conjunction with the fact that there are no sufficiently destructive factors operative, is adequate to explain persistence. (5) Etc. Etc. Etc.

Hsiao and Sanders then write:

“However, there are only two ways existence can become a part of a thing’s nature: (i) it becomes essential, or (ii) it becomes some non-essential feature thatcan be lost, such as a property or an accident.”

So, I’ve already argued that it’s false that EI entails or requires existence to becomes part of something’s nature. And so this dilemma won’t help them. But I do wish to say something about the second horn of the dilemma, (ii). Presumably, a nature is an essence. They’re the same thing. [This is how the terms are standardly used in contemporary philosophy.] It’s strange, then–to my mind, at least–that Hsiao and Sanders say that one way for something to “become part of a thing’s nature”–i.e. becomes part of its essence, presumably–is that it becomes non-essential. But we can set this aside. We can consider how they proceed to flesh out this dilemma. (Though, remember that I’ve already given five reasons why it rests on a false assumption, namely that EI requires existence to become built into or part of a thing’s nature. This is not true, as I have argued.)

They proceed:

“If it is essential, then it could not possibly lose that feature. For example, being a living organism is essential to a human. If it lost that feature, it would stop being a human. So if existence is essential, then it would be impossible for this being to go out of existence, which EI denies.

But this mistakes de re necessity with de dicto necessity.

If F is essential to S, this only means that S cannot exist without F. Importantly, it does NOT mean that “necessarily, S is F’. The former kind of necessity is de re necessity. The latter kind of necessity is de dicto necessity.

Now suppose, along with Hsiao and Sanders, that existence is essential to S. All that follows from this is that S couldn’t exist without S existing. And this is obviously true. What does NOT follow is that “necessarily, S exists” or “it is impossible for S to go out of existence”. That is a de dicto necessity. This is not entailed by the de re necessity of existence’s being essentially had by S. Thus, this is a straightforward non-sequitur: “if existence is essential, then it would be impossible for this being to go out of existence, which EI denies.” All we can infer from existence’s being essential to S is that “necessarily, if S exists, then S exists.” So, it’s true that S cannot lose existence when it exists. But nothing follows about the impossibility of S’s going out of existence.

Here’s another way to think about it. If F is essential to S, then all we can infer is that it is impossible for S to lose F while remaining in existence. Thus, it is impossible for me, a human, to lose the feature ‘being a living organism’ while remaining in existence. But this doesn’t entail that it’s impossible for me ‘lose’ this feature, since I can lose the feature by going out of existence! In such a case, it is no longer true that “Joe is a living organism”, whereas it was true earlier. What this shows us is that all we can infer from S’s essentially being F is that it is impossible for S to lose F while remaining in existence. But applying this to existence’s being essential to S (ex hypothesi), all we can infer here is that it is impossible for S to lose existence while remaining in existence. It does NOT follow that it is impossible for S to lose existence (in the sense of ‘S exists’ going from true to false), just as it does NOT follow that it is impossible for me to lose the feature ‘being a living organism’ (since, again, I can ‘lose’ it in the sense of going out of existence and hence losing ALL my properties). So, Hsiao and Sanders are mistaken here.

It’s also incorrect to say that EI automatically denies that an inertially persistent thing cannot fail to exist. For under the NTF Account, this is precisely what is AFFIRMED of the inertially persistent necessary temporal foundation.

They continue:

“Nor can it be a property because a property like sight is something that can only be had by an already existing thing.” Yes, S’s having F presupposes that S exists. But this is compatible with existence’s being a property, since it’s trivially true that S’s existing presupposes that S exists. (S cannot exist without existing, after all). Now, perhaps they mean that S’s existence must be ontologically prior to any property S has, in which case existence couldn’t be a property of S, since then S’s existence would be prior to S’s existence, which is absurd. But in that case, they’ve simply begged the question against the proponent of the view that existence is a property. No proponent of existence’s being a property would grant that S’s existence must be ontologically prior to any property S has. In other words, no one who doesn’t already deny that existence is a property would ever grant this claim of theirs. It’s question-begging.

Thus, their case here simply doesn’t work. And remember, we already concluded–before going into the dilemma they posed–that their argument doesn’t work, since we saw those five reasons from earlier. But even ignoring those five reasons, their dilemma argument still doesn’t work.

They then write:

“If existence is not a ‘thing’ that gets attached, then what is it? Existence must be an activity in the same way that change is an activity.”

This is a mere assertion in their article; no justification is given for it. And that which is asserted without justification is, I aver, likewise dismissed without justification.

But, alas, I’ll provide some justification for my dismissal nonetheless. In particular, I think we can mount their very arguments against them. Elsewhere they write that “notice that either non-essential feature requires that a thing’s nature already exists in order to come to exist in that thing. You cannot attach a case (non-essential feature) to a phone unless the phone already exists.” They also write that “Nor can [existence] be a property because a property like sight is something that can only be had by an already existing thing.”

But this exact same reasoning applies to their claim about existence’s being an activity: “in order for something to act in a given way–to perform some activity like walking, say (to use one of their examples)–that thing must already exist. Something must first exist in order to engage in various activities, in order to act, in order to have activity. Non-existent things, after all, surely don’t act or engage in activities. Thus, existence cannot be an act.” The reasoning, by my lights, is the exact same as the reasoning they used to dismiss other accounts of existence. (I can also use the example of a phone: a phone cannot act (e.g. set an alarm) unless the phone already exists.)

They then write:

“An activity like existing, after all, is not a “thing” that is acquired and preserved in a museum; rather it is a process that escapes objectification.”

Sure, this might succeed as an argument against existential inertia if they gave reasons in the article for thinking existence is a process, an activity; but from what I can see, they have not done so. They first argued–unsuccessfully, as I hope to have shown earlier–that existence isn’t an essential feature, nor is it an accident, nor is it a property. But from this, it’s simply a non-sequitur to infer that existence is an activity/process.

They then consider a response on behalf of the inertialist:

“Fundamental beings, which could be a simple particle or quantum field, have to continue to exist (unless something prevents it) and that is all there is to it. Their reasoning for this is that eventually we just have to appeal to some explanation that has no further explanation. It just is that way because it is.”

So, first note that I’ve already addressed this paragraph and the succeeding ones in my two-part response to Intellectual Conservatism [part 1 and part 2]; Gil made the same point above in the video. Thus, I have already responded to this. But I’ll include some responses here as well.

Second, note that NONE of the metaphysical accounts I sketched earlier in this post say that things inertially persist because it just is that way. All of the metaphysical accounts I adduced above cite facts other than inertial persistence to explain inertial persistence (e.g. metaphysical necessity, a foundational necessary temporal thing, transtemporal explanatory relations, tendencies, the nature of states of stasis/unchangingness, and so on).

They then claim:

“It seems quite evident that this is just an arbitrary cop-out.”

But I’ve already argued that the position they’ve constructed is not the one that EI affirms, and nor is it the one I defend in my IJPR paper. So, there is no “arbitrary cop-out” here.

They then claim:

“First, there is nothing even remotely necessary about EI in the way that a logical axiom like “A is A” is necessary. A cannot fail to be A but as EI itself affirms, a fundamental being can fail to continue to exist if caused to.”

This is mistaken. Here is why I think so:

First, no one claimed that EI is necessary in the way that a logical axiom is. That’s logical necessity. We’re talking about metaphysical necessity. And a good number of metaphysical necessities aren’t even remotely as evident as logical necessities. E.g. there seems to be nothing remotely necessary in the claim that “water is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen” in the way that A=A is. But that does nothing to tell against its metaphysical necessity.

Second, Hsiao and Sanders themselves have to hold that the Existential Expiration Thesis [cf. my paper] is necessary [roughly, the view that, necessarily, any temporal concrete object would instantaneously cease to exist upon the removal of sustaining efficient conservation from without]. But–to use their reasoning–there is nothing even remotely necessary about EET in the way that a logical axiom like “A is A” is necessary. Thus, if this criticism counts against EIT, it equally counts against EET.

Third, the inertialist has a whole host of non-ad-hoc, non-arbitrary, principled reasons they may accept existential inertia and even its metaphysical necessity. I explain many such reasons in the two-part series previously linked. But here’s another reason: first, one might have reasons for thinking classical theism is false (cf. the sources linked in the description of this video, or this article I recently published [I’m almost finished with my response to Christopher, Suan, and Gil’s response to this paper. My response should hopefully be up by the weekend.]). Then, one might argue that classical theism is one of the only potentially plausible views on which there is a timeless sustainer of temporal things; and hence, if one has reason to think classical theism is false, and if one thinks that classical theism was the only or one of the only potentially plausible views on which temporal things have a timeless sustaining cause, one thereby accepts (or has strong reason to accept) that at least some temporal concrete objects persist in existence without concurrent sustenance from without. And since classical theism, if false, would be necessarily false, it follows that any world in which there are temporal concrete objects is a world in which existential inertia obtains, thus securing the metaphysical necessity of existential inertia [assuming, of course–quite innocuously–that EI can likewise be understood as the thesis that *if there are* temporal concrete objects, then some subset thereof inertially persist.]. So, the necessity is neither ad hoc, nor arbitrary, nor a cop-out, nor unmotivated, nor anything of this sort.

Indeed, I actually give reasons for thinking that EET or EIT would be necessarily true if true at all in my IJPR paper. And thus anyone inclined to one or the other isn’t making some implausible claim when they claim its metaphysical necessity.

Fourth, as I’ve already shown, it’s perfectly consistent with EIT to have a necessary temporal foundation that cannot fail or cease to exist. The condition “ceases to exist if caused to do so” would then be trivially true for such a metaphysically necessary thing, since the antecedent would be impossible (a necessary being cannot be caused to fail to exist, since it cannot fail to exist in the first place).

They then claim:

“If EI is necessary, it has to be proven, not merely asserted.”

But this is mistaken. First, note that the PN Account is a metaphysical account of EIT, i.e. a proposed story or account on which (i) inertial persistence obtains and (ii) inertial persistence is not brute/inexplicable. It’s not ‘merely asserting’ it’s metaphysically necessary; it’s a model on which inertial persistence is explained by the metaphysical necessity thereof. (And I’ve already explained why one inclined to EIT should already accept the necessity of EIT for independent reasons, meaning it is simply mistaken to say that it’s a mere assertion.)

Moreover, in order to address sustaining-cause arguments for God’s existence–which is, after all the present dialectical context–the onus is on the proponent of such show why the PN Account is false. The detractor of such arguments need only raise it as an undercutting defeater–that is, as an epistemic possibility that the argument would need to rule out in order to succeed but doesn’t rule out. Recall that the onus of justification in such a dialectical context is on the one proffering an argument for God’s existence, and hence the burden is not on the inertialist to positively justify the claim to the metaphysical necessity of inertial persistence. Rather, the inertialist need only (i) raise the epistemic possibility thereof, and (ii) show that one of the premises in the argument (for God’s existence) in question presupposes or otherwise rests on the falsehood of existential inertia (or else the metaphysical necessity thereof). This is all the inertialist needs to do.

They then claim:

“Second, it seems obvious that existence can be analyzed in relation to further concepts like nature. To say it cannot be done is to beg the question because we just showed how it can be done.”

There are two problems with this. First, the inertialist NEED NOT claim that existence cannot be analyzed in relation to further concepts. I’ve already given a whole host of metaphysical accounts that appeal to further facts and concepts to do the explanatory heavy-lifting here. Thus, this is not aimed at EI as such, but at something else.

Second, EVEN IF the inertialist needed to claim that existence cannot be so analyzed, to claim that this proposal begs the question just misunderstands the dialectical context. The dialectical context is one wherein Hsiao and Sanders are proffering a positive argument for God’s existence. If one of their premises presupposes that existence can be so analyzed, and if they don’t provide those who don’t already agree with such a presupposition any reason to change their mind, then their argument simply rests on an unjustified assumption and hence is itself unjustified. By raising the point about unanalyzability, then, the detractor of the argument does NOT beg the question; the onus of justification is on Hsiao and Sanders to positively show the falsity of that position.

They then say:

“Third, it is evident that if an explanation is possible, then that should always be preferred over a non-explanation.”

But it’s simply false that EI commits to unexplained persistence. I’ve already sketched a whole host of metaphysical accounts that pinpoint such explanations. And no one is claiming that fundamental reality is exempt from

They then say:

“Additionally, we constantly find explanations for all sorts of dependent beings all of the time in science and philosophy. Why is “fundamental” reality exempt from this?”

As I’ve already shown, however, the inertialist has never said that fundamental reality is exempt from explanation. I’ve already shown how many such explanations could go, and there are doubtless many more that I haven’t explored in the confines of this post.

Finally, they say:

“So, from all of the prior reasoning we can see that anything that is not independent (i.e. it must exist by nature) has to be a dependent being.”

As I hope to have shown, however, that ‘prior reasoning’ doesn’t succeed, and for many, many, many reasons.

7 Conclusion

So, that concludes part one of my response to Hsiao’s and Sanders’ paper. I have addressed their points on sustaining causes and existential inertia.

Also note that my response to Gil, Suan, and Christopher regarding the aloneness argument should hopefully be out by this weekend!

Author: Joe


Some references:

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International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 61(2): 83-98.

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Quarterly, 85(2): 237-267.

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Method and Metaphysics. Palgrave Macmillan.

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Temporal Reality. Ph.D. Thesis, Umeå University, available at

Ingthorsson, R.D. 2021. A Powerful Particulars View of Causation. New York: Routledge.

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Metaphysics of Theism. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Oklahoma, available at

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Kvanvig (ed.) Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 8.

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  1. Maximilian Binns Stein

    How do you work this fast? It is very impressive.

    • Thank you! Much love <3

      So, half of this post is from another project I already have in the works; but the other half was new stuff I wrote today in response to the paper. The method behind the madness is–and this is both a blessing and a curse–my anxiety. (I have medicine for it, don't worry! 🙂 ) It gives me high octane motivation and incentive and drive and passion. But it also causes me stress. Anyway, hopefully I'm able to count my blessings and be grateful for them, while working on the cursed aspects of it. Growing in this endeavor is valuable indeed. 🙂

      • Maximilian Binns Stein

        I see. I can definitely understand how that could both benefit you and be detrimental to you. You’re doing great work, and the benefits of your anxiety obvious in such brilliant argumentation like this. This is quite and brilliant and, as a Classical Theist, I appreciate you doing this critical work because poor scholarship hurts our side and diminishes form that fact that there a good reasons to be a Classical Theist and that there are brilliant scholars who provide powerful arguments against existential inertia and for Classical Theism. Keep up the great work, you’re brilliant. God Bless.

  2. Pingback:Response to Hsiao and Sanders on the Thomistic Contingency Argument, Part 2 | Majesty of Reason

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