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Principle of plenitude

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Title: Principle of plenitude  
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Subject: Problem of future contingents, Pleroma, Principles, History of evolutionary thought, Occam's razor
Collection: Concepts in Metaphysics, Principles, Razors (Philosophy)
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Principle of plenitude

The principle of plenitude asserts that the universe contains all possible forms of existence. The historian of ideas Arthur Lovejoy was the first to discuss this philosophically important principle explicitly. Lovejoy distinguishes two versions of the principle: a static version, in which the universe displays a constant fullness and diversity, and a temporalized version, in which fullness and diversity gradually increase over time.

Lovejoy traces the principle of plenitude to the writings of Plato, finding in the Timaeus an insistence on "the necessarily complete translation of all the ideal possibilities into actuality".[1] By contrast, he takes Aristotle to reject the principle in his Metaphysics, when he writes that "it is not necessary that everything that is possible should exist in actuality".[2]

Since Plato, the principle of plenitude has had the following adherents:

  • Epicurus reiterated the principle in fr.266 Us. His follower Lucretius (DRN V 526-33 ) famously applied the principle to the sets of multiple explanations by which the Epicureans account for astronomical and meteorological phenomena: every possible explanation is also true, if not in our world, then somewhere else in the infinite universe.
  • Augustine of Hippo brought the principle from Neo-Platonic thought into early Christian Theology.
  • St Anselm's ontological arguments for God's existence used the principle's implication that nature will become as complete as it possibly can be, to argue that existence is a 'perfection' in the sense of a completeness or fullness.
  • Thomas Aquinas accepted a modified form of the principle, but qualified it by making several distinctions that safeguard the freedom of God.[3]
  • Giordano Bruno's insistence on an infinity of worlds was not based on the theories of Copernicus, or on observation, but on the principle applied to God. His death may then be attributed to his conviction of its truth.
  • Spinoza, according to Lovejoy, "expressed the principle of plenitude in its most uncompromising form" and "represented it as necessary in the strict logical sense".[4]
  • Kant believed in the principle but not in its empirical verification, even theoretically.

See also


  • Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being. Harvard University Press, 1936: ISBN 0-674-36153-9
    • Chapter IV "The Principle of Plenitude and the New Cosmography", p. 99–143.
    • Chapter V "Plenitude and Sufficient Reason in Leibniz and Spinoza" p. 144–182.


  1. ^ Lovejoy 1936, p. 50.
  2. ^ Lovejoy 1936, p. 55.
  3. ^ Caldecott, Stratford (Spring 2003). "Creation as a Call to Holiness". Communio. God creates whatever exists because it is fitting, not because it is necessary to him, nor because he is constrained by something outside himself. 
  4. ^ Lovejoy 1936, p. 155.
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