What Do We Mean When We Ask “Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?"

Erkenntnis 81 (6):1305-1322 (2016)
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Abstract
Let’s call the sentence “why is there something rather than nothing?” the Question. There’s no consensus, of course, regarding which proposed answer to the Question, if any, is correct, but occasionally there’s also controversy regarding the meaning of the Question itself. In this paper I argue that such controversy persists because there just isn’t one unique interpretation of the Question. Rather, the puzzlement expressed by the sentence “why is there something rather than nothing?” varies depending on the ontology implicitly or explicitly endorsed by the speaker. In this paper I do three things. First, I argue that other proposals according to which the Question has one uniquely adequate interpretation are false. Second, I give several examples of the way in which the meaning of the Question can vary depending on the ontology to which it is coupled. Third, I explore the implications of my thesis for the manner in which we should approach future attempts to answer the Question.
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Archival date: 2015-12-17
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