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The Mystery of Existence

John Leslie (Editor), Robert Lawrence Kuhn (Editor)
April 2013, ©2013, Wiley-Blackwell
The Mystery of Existence (EHEP002804) cover image


This compelling study of the origins of all that exists, including explanations of the entire material world, traces the responses of philosophers and scientists to the most elemental and haunting question of all: why is anything here—or anything anywhere? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why not nothing? It includes the thoughts of dozens of luminaries from Plato and Aristotle to Aquinas and Leibniz to modern thinkers such as physicists Stephen Hawking and Steven Weinberg, philosophers Robert Nozick and Derek Parfit, philosophers of religion Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, and the Dalai Lama.

  • The first accessible volume to cover a wide range of possible reasons for the existence of all reality, from over 50 renowned thinkers, including Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Bertrand Russell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, Robert Nozick, Derek Parfit, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies, and the Dalai Lama 
  • Features insights by scientists, philosophers, and theologians
  • Includes informative and helpful editorial introductions to each section
  • Provides a wealth of suggestions for further reading and research
  • Presents material that is both comprehensive and comprehensible



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Table of Contents

About the Editors vi

Acknowledgments vii

1 General Introduction (pages 1-12)

2 Some Quotations

Leibniz, Kant (page 13)

Schopenhauer, William James, George Santayana, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, J.J.C.Smart (14)

John A. Wheeler, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg (15)

3 Possible Responses to "Why Anything?"

Nicholas Rescher (pages 16-17)

4 First Solution: A Blank is Absurd

Editorial Introduction (pages 18-24)

F.H. Bradley, Henri Bergson (24)

Bede Rundle (25-26)

David Lewis (26-30)

Peter Unger (30-38)

Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (39-40)

5 Second Solution: No Explanation Needed

Editorial Introduction (pages 41-46)

Epicurus (46-47)

Hume (47-49)

Fred Hoyle (49-50)

W.B.Bonnor (51-52)

Bertrand Russell and F.C.Copleston (53-56)

Adolf Grünbaum (56-70)

6 Third Solution: Chance

Editorial Introduction (pages 71-77)

Alan Guth (77-82)

Stephen Hawking (82-90)

Alex Vilenkin (90-98)

Martin Rees (98)

Peter van Inwagen (98-100)

7 Fourth Solution: Value/ Perfection as Ultimate

Editorial Introduction (pages 101-109)

Plato (109-110)

Aristotle (110-111)

Plotinus (111-112)

Aquinas (112-113)

Anselm (113-114)

Descartes (114-115)

Alvin Plantinga (115-118)

Spinoza (118-119)

Leibniz (119-122)

Hegel (122-123)

A.C.Ewing (123-124)

Keith Ward (125)

John Polkinghorne (125-126)

John Leslie (126-141)

8 Fifth Solution: Mind/ Consciousness as Ultimate

Editorial Introduction (pages 142-147)

Richard Swinburne (147-153)

Timothy O'Connor (153-155)

William Lane Craig (155-159)

Sayyed Hossein Nasr (159-160)

Tenzin Gyatso, Dalai Lama XIV (160-161)

Andrei Linde (161-163)

Paul Davies (163-170)

9 Fine-Tuning and Multiple Universes

Editorial Introduction (pages 171-178)

John Polkinghorne (178-189)

Leonard Susskind (189-192)

Steven Weinberg (192-194)

Max Tegmark (194-206)

Robin Collins (207-210)

10 The Problem Seems Genuine

Editorial Introduction (pages 211-219)

Derek Parfit (220-237)

Robert Nozick (238-246)

Robert Lawrence Kuhn (246-278)

Michael Heller (278-284)

Nicholas Rescher (284-288)

Bibliography and Further Reading 289

Index of Names 310

Index of Concepts 313

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Author Information

John Leslie is University Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, Canada, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Well-known in the philosophy of cosmology and religion, he has held visiting professorships at institutions including the Australian National University (Research Department of Philosophy) and the University of Liège (Institute of Astrophysics). He is the author of numerous publications including Value and Existence (Blackwell, 1979), Universes (Routledge, 1989), The End of the World: the Science and Ethics of Human Extinction (Routledge, 1996), Infinite Minds (Oxford University Press, 2001), and Immortality Defended (Blackwell, 2007).

Robert Lawrence Kuhn is a public intellectual and the creator and host of Closer To Truth, the long-running PBS / public television series on science and philosophy. With a doctorate in brain research (UCLA), he is the author or editor of more than 30 books, including Closer To Truth: Challenging Current Belief and Closer To Truth: Science, Meaning and the Future. A recognized expert on Chinese politics and economics, he is the author of The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin (Crown, 2005), China’s best-selling book of 2005, and How China’s Leaders Think (Wiley, 2011). He is a frequent commentator on the BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, China Central Television (CCTV), and Euronews.

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“In this deep and thoughtful book, philosopher John Leslie and public sage Robert Lawrence Kuhnorganize, integrate, and reassess past and current ideas about this most compelling of metaphysical questions.”  (Metapsychology, 13 August 2013)

“And now John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn have published The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?, a very useful anthology of classic and contemporary readings.”  (First Things, 24 July 2013)

“Read the book by all means.  It's well written.  Inevitably.  After all its contributors number the greatest brains known to man.  But I think it has been misnamed.  The Mystery of Existence(There really isn't anything to concern us.).”  (New Nurturing Potential, 1 July 2013)

“I certainly recommend it, but it is not the sort of book you would buy to read in the train.”  (Magonia Blog, 6 June 2013)

"Their book, which I would recommend highly to students, researchers or indeed anyone with a curiosity about or stimulated by these deepest of questions, offers an abundance of suggestions for further reading and research on this inexhaustible topic."  (Mysterious Planet, 1 June 2013)  

“Recent discoveries in cosmology have led to a renewed surge of interest in ultimate questions of existence. What, if anything, came before the big bang? If the universe appeared from nothing in a law-like manner, then where did the laws come from, and why do they have the form that they do? Or is our universe but an infinitesimal fragment of an eternal, infinite sea of diverse laws and universes? This book provides a comprehensive review of attempts to grapple with such foundational questions, and skillfully charts the intersection of science, philosophy and theology. The authors have assembled an intellectual feast for all those who care about physical existence, the universe and our place within it.”

—Paul Davies, Director, BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Arizona State University
Author of The Goldilocks Enigma: Why the Universe is Just Right for Life

“This book gathers together some of the best that has been thought and written on what may be the most fundamental question of all: Why does anything exist? Readers won’t find a definite answer – perhaps there isn’t one that we’re capable of understanding – but they will at least get a feel for the nature of the question. And in philosophy, understanding the question is in itself an important step

—Martin J. Rees, Astronomer Royal (UK)
Author of Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe

“A very useful collection containing many of the most prominent responses to the question why there is something rather than nothing, with helpful introductions by the editors.”

—Richard Swinburne, University of Oxford
Author of The Existence of God

“This book will be an indispensable resource for anyone who wants to think seriously about the questions, ‘Why is there something – and not rather nothing?’ and ‘Why is there this something – and not rather some entirely different “something”?’”

—Peter van Inwagen, the University of Notre Dame
Author of Existence: Essays in Ontology

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Purchase Options
The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?
ISBN : 978-0-470-67355-3
328 pages
April 2013
$30.95   BUY

The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?
ISBN : 978-0-470-67354-6
328 pages
April 2013
$103.95   BUY

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