Tamers, deniers, and me


This paper critically examines a prominent and perennial strategy—found in thinkers as diverse as Kant and Shamik Dasgupta—of simultaneously embracing the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) and also limiting it so as to avoid certain apparently negative consequences of an unrestricted PSR. I will argue that this strategy of taming the PSR faces significant challenges and may even be incoherent. And for my (nefarious) purposes, I will enlist a generally derided argument by Leibniz for the PSR which will help us to see the connections between the PSR and a radical form of monism.

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  1. 1.

    For the role of the PSR in Parmenides, see Della Rocca (2020, chapter 1), see also Sattler (2020), Mourelatos (2008, pp. xxix, 10), Mourelatos and Pulpito (2018) and Kirk et al. (1984, p. 250).

  2. 2.

    For the connection between the PSR and necessitarianism, see van Inwagen (2002, chapter 4) and Bennett (1984, p. 115). For challenges to this alleged implication, see Levey (2016) and Amijee (forthcoming). For the identity of indiscernibles as implied by the PSR, see Leibniz, “Primary Truths” in Leibniz (1989) and Rodriguez-Pereyra (2014).

  3. 3.

    See Della Rocca (2010).

  4. 4.

    See Hume (2000, 1.3.3). On Hume, see Della Rocca (2017). See also Russell (1910), and Lewis (1986, pp. 128–133). This is Lewis’ response to Unger (1984).

  5. 5.

    I discuss the Kantian response in chapter 10 of Della Rocca (2020).

  6. 6.

    Schaffer (2010).

  7. 7.

    In other work (in progress), I offer a kind of defense of Leibniz’s argument, but my purposes don’t require doing so here.

  8. 8.

    Quoted in Adams (1994, p. 68). The passage can be found in Leibniz (1923–, volume VI, ii, p. 483). A version of this argument also appeared in Leibniz (2005). The argument also appeared in a paper entitled “De Existentia” (from 1676; Leibniz 1992, pp. 110–113). Finally, an echo of this argument emerges in Leibniz’s correspondence with Clarke, Letter 5, Sect. 18: “the nature of things requires that every event should have beforehand its proper conditions, requisites, and dispositions, the existence whereof makes the sufficient reason of such an event” (Leibniz 1969, p. 698).

  9. 9.

    Adams (1994, p. 68). See also Look (2011, p. 204), Leibniz (2005, pp. 151n23).

  10. 10.

    Adams recognizes this point when he says that that opponent of Leibniz would regard [2] as question-begging “unless trivially necessary conditions (such as the thing’s existence itself) are included among its requirements, in which case the sum of the requirements will constitute a sufficient reason only in a very uninteresting sense of ‘reason’” (Adams 1994, p. 68).

  11. 11.

    For more on Leibniz’s notion of requisites, see Di Bella (2005). Di Bella points out (p. 69) that while in some early works (such as the passage I am focusing on in the main text as well as in “De Existentia”), Leibniz’s wording suggests that requisites are mere necessary conditions, in other passages it is clear that Leibniz sees requisites as by definition prior in nature to what they are requisites for. In this sense of “requisite” which invokes priority, the notion of other-ness will be built into the definition of “requisite”.

  12. 12.

    For some discussion, see Della Rocca (2019).

  13. 13.

    For more on this theme, see Della Rocca (2013) and Della Rocca (2020, chapter 11).

  14. 14.

    I am indebted to Sam Berstler here.

  15. 15.

    It is worth noting that if, instead of modifying [2] as [2′], we modify Definition 2 as Definition 2′, the antecedents of [2] and [4] are still false (or without truth-value) because now the very notion of requisite includes the notion of priority or otherness.

  16. 16.

    Here I disagree with Dasgupta when he denies that the essentialist fact about this set is grounded (at least in part) in the fact that it is essential to the set-membership relation that it is essential to any set that it has the members that it has. Dasgupta explicitly denies the claim that the fact that it is essential to {Socrates} to contain Socrates as its only member is “grounded (at least in part) in the fact that it is essential to the set-membership relation that it is essential to any set that it has the members it has,” (Dasgupta 2016, p. 389). Dasugpta gives no reason, as far as I can see, for denying that the nature of the set-membership relation is a partial ground of the essentialist fact in question. I suspect that Dasgupta’s position here is a reflection of the unargued assumption in much of the grounding literature that general facts are grounded in their particular instances.

  17. 17.

    Here I am indebted to Fatema Amijee.

  18. 18.

    There are also a different Humean argument and a different Parmenidean argument from some version of the PSR to RM. I discuss these arguments elsewhere: the Humean argument in my “Playing with Fire”, and the Parmenidean argument in Della Rocca (2020, chapter 1).

  19. 19.

    For a specific version of this general claim, see Fine (1995b, p. 61), and Fine (1995a, pp. 275, 283–284). For potential counterexamples to Fine’s particular way of making this point, see Wilson (2016).

  20. 20.

    For more on the viciousness of the regress see, Lewis (2002).

  21. 21.

    This argument is Bradleyan in spirit, though Jonathan Schaffer has convinced me that the key move in this argument may be my own and not really to be found in Bradley. So be it, i.e. so be, i.e. be. For more on this argument and for defenses of it against other objections, see, Della Rocca (2016, 2020, chapter 3).

  22. 22.

    See also, Campbell (1931, p. 25).

  23. 23.

    This strategy is in Quine (1981), Wollheim (1969), Gaskin (2008), and Karen Bennett (2011), and many others.

  24. 24.

    I would argue that, for the kinds of reason that the PSR-taming strategy is incoherent, so too are at least some forms of the monism-taming strategy. For related criticisms of Schaffer’s monism, see Della Rocca (2014) and Della Rocca (2020), chapter 8.

  25. 25.

    I explore this theme in Della Rocca (2020, chapter 9).

  26. 26.

    I am grateful to many people who have commented on earlier versions of this paper, including especially Barbara Sattler, Fatema Amijee, Elizabeth Miller, Carol Rovane, Eric Watkins, and Dai Heide. I am also grateful to wonderfully constructive audiences at Oxford, Klagenfurt, Denison University, Humboldt Universität, the New York Early Modern Workshop, Johns Hopkins, Tel Aviv, and Simon Fraser, and to participants in my seminars at Yale on meaning and on Leibniz.


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Della Rocca, M. Tamers, deniers, and me. Philos Stud (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-020-01485-0

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  • Leibniz
  • PSR
  • Dasgupta
  • Monism