Is there a possible world in which nothing exists? Put more emphatically, does it so much as make any sense to say of a possible world it consists in nothing? It seems to me it doesn’t, for it doesn’t make much sense to predicate a property of what doesn’t exist, even if we take “being nothing” as a proper property. Do most of us feel comfortable saying of, say, centaurs, they have the properties “having a human head”, “having an equine body”, and “being nothing”? If so, then we can conceive of a possible world in which nothing exists by simply adding to every set of properties that distinguish one object from another in this, the actual world, the property “being nothing”. But it’s not really that simple, is it? For we can’t add the property “being nothing” to a set of properties essentially predicated of some object, without thereby conceiving an incoherent object, and object with a set of internally self-contradictory properties.
If we can’t conceive of a possible world in which nothing exists by simply adding to everything that does exist in the actual world, the property “being nothing” (or “nothingness” may be better for a property), without thereby transgressing a widely received definition for a “possible world”1 can we conceive of a possible world in which only one thing exists, and then add the property “nothingness” to the set of properties that define it? I think we run into the same contradiction, thereby transgressing the same definition for a “possible world”.
We can, I believe, make much shorter work of all this by simply accepting, as I do, that things that don’t exist don’t possess properties, and “nothingness” is therefore not a property that can be predicated of anything, and therefore not an actual property. If “nothingness” is not a legitimate property, in that it can’t be coherently predicated of anything, it certainly can’t be predicated of anything in which a possible world consists, and so it would seem reasonable to say there is no possible world in which nothing exists. In fact, it doesn’t so much as make any sense to say there is a possible world in which nothing exists, because in this sense “nothing exists” becomes an oxymoron, like “pretty ugly” .
So, in every possible world it seems there is at least one thing that must exist; that for a possible world to exist, even merely as a coherent mental construct, it must contain at least something that actually exists in it 2. But then it must be possible that only one thing exist, right? I mean, if there is a possible world consisting in only one thing, what we are really saying is there is a possible thing that has no necessary conditions for its existence. And in saying that about some thing or another, are we not thus implying there is something that possibly exists and is necessary? I think we are, and we can say we’ve just demonstrated in fairly plausible fashion, at least until some equally plausible objection is raised, that a necessary thing, i.e., being exists. I haven’t shown a necessary being exists as a logically necessary being, of course, but that some being is necessary on possible worlds modality, and that to deny this necessary being exists, it will be necessary to first deny the validity of the possible worlds semantic for modality; something that to my knowledge no one has seriously tried to do.
So what are the characteristics of this necessary being? Well, as we’ve seen, its existence is unconditional. There are no necessary conditions for it coming to exist (in that there is a possible world in which only it exists), and so it has no beginning to its existence. Likewise, because there are no conditions on which it depends for its existence, there are none capable of causing it to cease to exist. So a necessary being is eternal in the strictest sense of the word. It has no beginning to its existence and no end. Furthermore, because it is necessary, it must exist not only in the possible world in which it is the only extant thing, but it must exist in every possible world, for that is the possible worlds modality of necessity. And if it exists in every possible world, and obviously the actual world, this world, is a possible world, then this necessary being exists in this, the actual world.
It also seems plausible to me, although at present I’m not sure how to argue this that in every possible world containing contingent beings, this necessary being would have to be if not the immediate cause of their coming to exist, then at the very least their ultimate cause; their “necessary condition” for existing. What, besides a necessary being could fill the role of being the final cause in a causal chain formed by some collection of contingently existing entities? I just don’t see how such a chain of causation can be traced backward, from effect to cause forever, never ending at a necessity. Someone will have to educate me on how this isn’t the case.
If there are no serious problems with any of the above, it seems to me this is a good case for the existence of at least one necessary being, a being(s) that is the immediate or ultimate cause for all contingent beings in all possible worlds, thus superior in an ontological sense to them all in all possible worlds, and this being is consistent with the being theists call God.
I’m presenting this not as a finished work, but more as a first draft in the hope of it perhaps becoming an article some day, having benefited from the appropriate amount of constructive criticism. This helps explain the lack of citations, which I intend to include should this essay reach the level of improvement where they become important.
1. A possible world is first a maximal set of propositions, where propositions are descriptions of states of affairs, and “maximal” means “exhaustive”, such that no proposition can be added to the set without thereby forming a contradiction. So a possible world is a maximal set of propositions that forms no contradiction.
2. This is not saying that what actually exists in a possible world that is not actual actually exists, for this is to confuse actuality and possibility. Rather, it is to say that there are possible worlds consisting of things that actually exist in those possible worlds, but that those possible worlds don’t actually exist, save one, which is the actual world.