Advanced Search

This is not a factual question of whether conscious being can be aware of it´s

This is not a factual question of whether conscious being can be aware of it´s own existence in the world. Rather how the chain of reasoning can be non-contradictory if one is to assume the world exists, and that this world is not a part of oneself. Consider the following: Do I or do I not exist? I exist and there exists also something which I am not. Does the "something which I am not" exist if I do not exist?(a question as to whether the world is not me) Well if it is not a part of me, then it would surely be possible for it to exist if I do not. But if I do not exist, the world does not exist, for if the necessary perspective of observation is the perspective of the observer then the facts existing are only those which the observer can yield true or false. Therefore there can be nothing that exists when I do not exist and, stretching it further, there exists nothing which I am not. I do not believe that www.askphilosophers.org and this computer are a product of my imagination, so please, explain how...

I understand your long complex sentence to make this argument:

(1) the necessary perspective of observation is the perspective of the observer.

Therefore (2) the facts existing are only those which the observer can yield true or false.

Therefore (3) if I do not exist, the world does not exist.

If I understand correctly what you mean with these sentences, then I think there are two problems with your reasoning. The premise (1) states that observation requires an observer. Fair enough. From this you want to conclude that (2) things can exist or facts can obtain only if there is an observer who judges them to exist/obtain. But this conclusion does not really follow. Without an observer, the Rocky Mountains would not be observed or known, and the fact that there are these huge mountains would not be known to obtain. But not being known is not the same as not existing. It does not follow from the fact that mountains are not perceived by anyone that these mountains do not exist. How would the removal of all observers alter the fact that there is this mountain chain which we call the Rocky Mountains? To be sure, without observers, this mountain chain would have no name. But it could still be there, couldn't it? This is the first problem with your reasoning.

Suppose, on the contrary, that (2) any thing can exist and any fact can obtain only if observed by some observer. Even then it does not follow that this observer must be you. It could be I, for example. Well before you were born, I traveled to Colorado and carefully looked at the Rocky Mountains. According to your second proposition, the Rockies existed and various facts about them obtained while I was looking. But you didn't exist then -- and might easily never have come into existence. So it would seem that things other than you (the Rockies, the world, I) can exist independently of your existence. This is the second problem with your reasoning.

I understand your long complex sentence to make this argument: (1) the necessary perspective of observation is the perspective of the observer. Therefore (2) the facts existing are only those which the observer can yield true or false. Therefore (3) if I do not exist, the world does not exist. If I understand correctly what you mean with these sentences, then I think there are two problems with your reasoning. The premise (1) states that observation requires an observer. Fair enough. From this you want to conclude that (2) things can exist or facts can obtain only if there is an observer who judges them to exist/obtain. But this conclusion does not really follow. Without an observer, the Rocky Mountains would not be observed or known, and the fact that there are these huge mountains would not be known to obtain. But not being known is not the same as not existing. It does not follow from the fact that mountains are not perceived by anyone that these...

Is it legitimate to talk about "society" as an agent, when "society" is neither

Is it legitimate to talk about "society" as an agent, when "society" is neither a cohesive unit nor a uniform set?

I share your qualms in regard to common formulations about how society approves of this and condemns that. But most societies have some fairly determinate decision procedures that can result in collective decisions and actions, as when Danish society does not recognize polygamous marriages. In cases of this kind, a society can be said to act: to decide to recognize same-sex marriages, to declare war, to ban the use of pesticides. Saying this makes sense when there is a decision procedure which is widely recognized within the society and whose decisions are effectively enforced (insofar as they are not voluntarily complied with).

I share your qualms in regard to common formulations about how society approves of this and condemns that. But most societies have some fairly determinate decision procedures that can result in collective decisions and actions, as when Danish society does not recognize polygamous marriages. In cases of this kind, a society can be said to act: to decide to recognize same-sex marriages, to declare war, to ban the use of pesticides. Saying this makes sense when there is a decision procedure which is widely recognized within the society and whose decisions are effectively enforced (insofar as they are not voluntarily complied with).

It makes sense to me that there should be nothing rather than anything. I find

It makes sense to me that there should be nothing rather than anything. I find this issue rather mind boggling because obviously there is something. Fortunately I'm able to dismiss this issue and go on to other things. My only hope is that if there is an afterlife, and there are orientation sessions I will ask the lecturer (an angel?) about it. I'm just afraid that his reply will be a board with a bunch of incomprehensible formulae. My question is do philosophers deal with this issue or has it already been dismissed as undealable.

As your formulations nicely bring out, the problem here arises from the combination of two phenomena: that there is something rather than nothing, and that our mind finds it more natural (less surprising, less boggling, more sense-making) that there should be nothing rather than anything.

Our disposition to find certain things disturbing is a feature of the mind we have, which developed through evolution and education. It's not hard to tell a story about why our mind should have developed this way: we do best concentrating our explanatory efforts on events and changes rather than where nothing it happening. So we reason with a maxim like "nothing happens without a reason" (meaning: whenever something happens, then there is a reason for it). But this useful maxim, deeply entrenched in even our more unreflective behavior, may not serve us best in all contexts. It may make us overlook that in some cases a non-event needs explanation (Sherlock Holmes' famous case of the dog that did not bark). And it may leave us stunned before the question of why there is something rather than nothing at all, because any reason we can think of (e.g., a creator god) would leave us equally at a loss to explain why he/it should exist rather than not exist. (This is how Immanuel Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, expresses this mind-boggling experience: "Unconditioned necessity, which we so indispensably require as the last bearer of all things, is for human reason the veritable abyss. Eternity itself, in all its terrible sublimity ... is far from making the same overwhelming impression on the mind; for it only measures the duration of things, it does not support them. We cannot put aside, and yet also cannot endure the thought, that a being, which we represent to ourselves as supreme amongst all possible beings, should, as it were, say to itself: 'I am from eternity to eternity, and outside me there is nothing save what is through my will, but whence then am I? ' All support here fails us....")

As Kant also recognized, the only way to banish our anxiety is to recognize the contribution our mind makes to our sense of puzzlement, to recognize that we have no good reason for our disposition to find nothingness natural ("it makes sense to me") and somethingness mind-boggling or even terrifying. One could then add that, once we make the effort to suppress this disposition, then somethingness perhaps even becomes the less surprising outcome. There are countless ways for there to be something, after all, and only one way for there to be nothing -- so would it not be mind-bogglingly surprising, if there had been nothing at all? (Unsurprisingly, surprise occurs only if there is something rather than nothing, of course.)

As for philosophers having dealt with this question, I would also mention Hegel (the Science of Logic), Heidegger (Being and Time), and Nozick (Philosophical Explanations) -- plus see the entry "Nothingness" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Perhaps in the Western tradition the most useful approach to your sense of puzzlement is the kind of philosophy as therapy that Wittgenstein developed in his later work, most strikingly perhaps in his Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. And then there is also a great deal of Eastern religion and philosophy to explore, though you would need a better guide for that literature and teaching than I could be.

As your formulations nicely bring out, the problem here arises from the combination of two phenomena: that there is something rather than nothing, and that our mind finds it more natural (less surprising, less boggling, more sense-making) that there should be nothing rather than anything. Our disposition to find certain things disturbing is a feature of the mind we have, which developed through evolution and education. It's not hard to tell a story about why our mind should have developed this way: we do best concentrating our explanatory efforts on events and changes rather than where nothing it happening. So we reason with a maxim like "nothing happens without a reason" (meaning: whenever something happens, then there is a reason for it). But this useful maxim, deeply entrenched in even our more unreflective behavior, may not serve us best in all contexts. It may make us overlook that in some cases a non-event needs explanation (Sherlock Holmes' famous case of the dog that did not bark). And it...

Couldn't we take the "ontological proof" of God's existence to prove that there

Couldn't we take the "ontological proof" of God's existence to prove that there are many God-like creatures? For instance, imagine a creature that has all thinkable perfections except for the fact that it has dirty fingernails. If existence is a perfection, then this creature must have this perfection, since one can both exist and have dirty fingernails. And so, if the ontological proof proves that God exists, then it proves that dirty fingernails-God exists too. Doesn't it?

I'm with Thomas Pogge on what the real issue is here. For what it's worth, I'm also no friend to the Ontological Argument. But let's see if a supporter of the argument might have something to say in response to this challenge...

First of all, what form of the argument are we going to consider? It's been presented in many different ways over the centuries, and some versions have had much more force to them than others. In its simplest form, the argument basically goes as follows. God, by definition, possesses every perfection; existence is a perfection; therefore, God possesses it, i.e. God exists. But this version is notoriously vulnerable to objections like those that, for instance, Kant formulated way back in the eighteenth century.

But there are other versions. One of the best (particularly associated with Leibniz, but formulated by several other people too, both before him and since) basically goes like this. (i) God, by definition, possesses every perfection; (ii) necessary existence is a perfection; (iii) it is possible that a God, thus defined, should exist. Therefore, God does exist. Given a few extremely basic principles of modal logic, it can now be shown that the argument is valid, in the sense that the conclusion really does follow from the premises. How does this work? Well, to say that it is possible that God should exist is equivalent to saying that there is some possible world or other where God does exist. Thus far, this possible world may or may not be the one that we actually inhabit. But we can still consider what will be true at such a possible world, even if it isn't actual. And, given the other two premises, one thing that we can declare to be true at that world is that God necessarily exists. But to say that it is true at a certain possible world that something necessarily exists is equivalent to saying that it is true at every other world that it exists. And our world is certainly going to be among these others. So it is true at our world that God exists. Indeed, from this it follows in turn that God necessarily exists here. So there you have it: the Ontological Argument is logically valid! Sound the trumpets!

But, of course, validity isn't everything. What we really want is 'soundness'. It's not enough for the conclusion to follow logically from the premises: we also hope that the premises themselves might actually be true (and, indeed, that we might have solid grounds to believe them to be true), for only then will we have any solid grounds to accept the conclusion.

So let's now look more narrowly at the 'dirty fingernails' argument that you've raised. The place where a defender of the divine argument is most likely to criticise your reformulation of it will be on the possibility of the existence of the being that you've defined. People like Leibniz went to some lengths (albeit with questionable results) to argue that the perfections they attributed to God were all 'compossible', i.e. that it was possible that a being should have all of them together. And I think this would be how they'd respond to you: they'd deny the compossibility of dirty fingernails with the perfection of necessary existence. No being, they would say, could have both; i.e. they would reject your version of premise (iii). And, since the argument hangs on the interaction between the necessary existence described in premise (ii) and the possible existence described in premise (iii), they would thereby declare that your version of the argument was unsound.

And why might dirty fingernails be regarded as incompossible with necessary existence? Well, plenty of reasons. If we don't reject that compossibility, then we do indeed seem to be facing a very real prospect of being forced to accept the necessary existence of the being you've described. But that would mean that these dirty fingernails themselves necessarily exist, and that just doesn't seem right. Can't we imagine possible worlds where no fingernails exist at all? Moreover, if this alleged being's dirty fingernails are anything like the kinds of fingernails that we are familiar with -- and, if they're not, then why are we calling them 'fingernails' at all? -- then they ought to be every bit as destructible as any other fingernails are. But destructibility and necessary existence definitely don't seem to be compossible. So the being you've described (all-perfections-plus-dirty-fingernails) doesn't seem to be a possible existent; i.e. there is no possible world where such a being exists; and consequently the 'necessary existence at some world' step in the argument, and the move from that to existence in the actual world (and from that back to necessary existence in the actual world), never actually kicks in at all.

I read the question differently from Oliver. The questioner agrees that dirty fingernails are an imperfection, in fact, this is part of the point. We are to imagine a being that is all-perfect except for those dirty fingernails. Now if existence is a perfection, as the ontological argument assumes, then this imagined being has it. So it exists. (And never mind whether it's Divine or Divine-like, that's irrelevant to the point.) And likewise for all the other imaginable beings that are all-perfect except for one imperfection (other than non-existence) -- each of them also exists. And so do all the other imaginable beings that are all-perfect except for two imperfections (other than non-existence). And so on. So I think this is a nice reductio ad absurdum of the ontological argument for God's existence. If the ontological argument proves the existence of God, it also proves the existence of a vast number of other beings whose existence those interested in proving God's existence would have wanted to deny.

"Unique" is surely an absolute. Something either is different to anything else

"Unique" is surely an absolute. Something either is different to anything else or it isn't. So, suppose I have a collection of 100 CDs (and I'm referring to titles, rather than the physical objects). If someone else had 99 of the same CDs in their collection, then mine would only be 1% different, but it would still be unique (obviously assuming that no-one else had the exact same collection). However, if I again have a collection of 100 CDs and the closest anyone could get to having the exact same collection is to just match with one of my CDs - my collection would be 99% different, and would be unique. Both collections are unique, but is one *more* unique than the other? If so, surely being 'unique' isn't an absolute but a question of degree. If neither are more unique than the other, how can they both be equally unique if it would only take 1 changed CD to match someone elses collection (and lose the unique status), but with the other it would take 99 changed CDs to match another collection.

We use language to draw distinctions of various kinds. Some suchdistinctions are binary -- such as that between prime and nonprimenatural numbers or that between pregnant and nonpregnant female personsand animals. Other such distinctions are scalar -- such as that betweenobjects called long or short, fast or slow, North or South, suggestinga scale along which things can be ordered. Yet other such distinctionsare plural -- such as the distinctions we draw by means of colorpredicates.

As your example brings out, distinctions ofdifferent kinds can sometimes be applied within the same space. In thespace of colors, for instance, we might operate with a simple binarydistinction (blue/nonblue) or with a scalar distinction (bright/dark)or with a plural distinction (mauve/crimson/turquois/...). Similarly,in regard to CD collections, we might operate with a simple binarydistinction (unique/nonunique) or with a more complex scalar or pluraldistinction.

Which kind of distinction we employ typicallydepends on the purpose at hand. A guy locked out of his apartment maywant to distinguish among keys in a simple binary way according towhether they do or do not fit his door. An avid key collector, bycontrast, may draw much more complex distinctions among keys.

The air ofparadox in your example arises from the fact that you place a word --"unique" -- used to mark a binary distinction into a context in which amore complex distinction would seem more appropriate. When assessing aCD collection as indicative of her owners taste, we are typically notsimply interested in whether her collection does or does not matchsomeone else's precisely. As you suggest, we are usually interested also in thedegree of overlap between her collection and its closest match -- aswell as (I would add) in how her collection compares to yet furthercollections.

This being so, we can nonetheless avoid yourparadoxical (or revisionist) talk of CD collections being more or lessunique. We can instead make the point in different language, with aword like "distinctive," for example. A CD collection is the lessdistinctive the more overlap there is with its closest match and themore overlap there is with other CD collections more generally.

We use language to draw distinctions of various kinds. Some suchdistinctions are binary -- such as that between prime and nonprimenatural numbers or that between pregnant and nonpregnant female personsand animals. Other such distinctions are scalar -- such as that betweenobjects called long or short, fast or slow, North or South, suggestinga scale along which things can be ordered. Yet other such distinctionsare plural -- such as the distinctions we draw by means of colorpredicates. As your example brings out, distinctions ofdifferent kinds can sometimes be applied within the same space. In thespace of colors, for instance, we might operate with a simple binarydistinction (blue/nonblue) or with a scalar distinction (bright/dark)or with a plural distinction (mauve/crimson/turquois/...). Similarly,in regard to CD collections, we might operate with a simple binarydistinction (unique/nonunique) or with a more complex scalar or pluraldistinction. Which kind of distinction we employ typicallydepends on...