Does everything happen for a sufficient reason?

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We sometimes console others who face tragedy by saying that everything happens for a reason. Is there some kind of grand design to the world? Are all facts determined by physics? Similarly, do humans have free will?

Arguments for[edit]

  • As our investigation of the sciences deepens, we learn more about how the world is connected and events are dependent upon one another. Events which seem "random" are not in fact sheer chance or caprice of the gods but happen as a part of a chain of causal events.
    • Actually, no, as our understanding of the sciences deepens, we find more and more evidence for quantum mechanics, and for its contention that things are, in fact, random, and it is causality which is the illusion.
  • Causality is a natural law, so everything that happens has a cause, and therefore a reason.
    • Claiming that causality is a natural law doesn't make it so. This argument just re-states the principle of sufficient reason without explaining how it is true.
  • Accepting that some events have no sufficient reason leads to a stop in the search for one. Then, if we're mistaken in our judgment of there not being a sufficient reason, we will never find out. Therefore, for methodological reasons, we must accept the principle of sufficient reason.

Arguments against[edit]

  • What is the sufficient reason behind the precise moment at which a particular atom in a radioactive compound decays? According to our best confirmed science today, some processes, such as radioactive decay, are inherently random at the atomic level. A sufficient reason as to why that atom decayed when it did cannot be given even in principle.
    • The principle of sufficient reason states that everything must have a reason or a cause, not that we must know that reason. Science may not have found the reason yet, but this doesn't put a sound counterargument to the principle.
      • The principle of sufficient reason needs to be proven if you want to use it. Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer have proposed proofs of this principle but their proofs are not universally agreed upon and rely upon various assumptions that not everybody agrees on. If you wish to rely on the principle of sufficient reason, you must provide a proof that this principle is true. For instance, empiricists such as David Hume would not agree with the principle of sufficient reason unless shown sufficient empirical proof.
  • According to quantum mechanics, some events occur randomly.
    • The probabilities in quantum mechanics describe what happens but just because probabilities can be applied there isn't necessarily an absence of cause. The cause could simply be unknown as of yet.
  • Although we can sometimes explain the material causes of tragedy or suffering, that doesn't mean they are sufficient or that they should happen.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]