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Hi; Rene Descartes concluded "cogito, ergo sum", but this only raises a deeper question in my mind as to why do I exist? Is this a legitimate Philosophical question, and if so how does one go about answering it? cheers Pasquale

Yes, this is very much an important philosophical matter. Inquiry into why one exists usually involves a combination of metaphysics (inquiry into what exists) and value theory. There are two major schools of thought about why you or the cosmos exists, and multiple alternatives in between. On the one hand there are teleological accounts of the cosmos, according to which you and the cosmos exist for some purpose or value. In many religions (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Islam), this purpose or value is goodness itself. To put things a bit simply, the reason why the cosmos (including you) exist is because it is good (or, putting it differently, it is better that the cosmos exists rather than not exist). These relgions generally understand God as essentially good and thus beleive that the cosmos (despite its evil) is the result and is sustained by a good divine reality. On the other hand, there are non-teleological accounts of the cosmos, which claim that there is no purposive end or value as to why the cosmos exists. On this view, there are causal accounts as to why you exist (perhaps involving physics and biology) but there is no purposive moral or religious or aesthetic end involved.

Apart from metaphysics and value theory, your question is also taken up by philosophers under the general heading 'the meaning of life.' Thomas Nagel has a short book on this topic called (something like) 'what it all means.' You might check that out, Pasquale.

Highest regard, CT

I have been a bit curious about the notion of the use of “possible worlds” as a

I have been a bit curious about the notion of the use of “possible worlds” as a way of communicating whether a proposition is either empirically or rationally true. When a proposition is said to be necessarily true (e.g. Circles are round) it is said that there is no possible world in which circles exist and are not round; circularity and roundness are inherently tied together by their nature. However, it seems upon further reflection that the use of the quantifier “all possible worlds” could only suggest all possible worlds in which ideas or abstract objects like circles and the concept of roundness are like our actual world; or, in a related sense, where there exist beings whose deductive logical “systems” are like ours. If this is true is it possible that our invoking the use of the phrase “all possible worlds” should really indicate “all possible worlds like our own”? While it may be nonsensical to state that there are square circles in some possible world, does it follow that this cannot be true in...

It seem that some issues are getting blurred here. You suggest that when we say there are no possible worlds with round squares, we're implicitly talking only about worlds where the concepts of 'round' and 'square' are as they are in our world, or -- perhaps you see this as the same thing -- only in worlds with beings who think the way we do. But that makes it sound as though it's a matter of how people talk or think. The real point is this: we use the words 'round' and 'square' to pick out certain concepts. People who don't speak English might use different words. Some creatures may not have these concepts at all. And there could be square things or round things -- things that fit the concept we're getting at -- even if there were no thinkers at all. But to revert to world-talk, there aren't any worlds where any round things are also square things --even though there might be worlds where beings use the words 'round' and 'square' to pick out concepts different from ours that don't exclude one another.

In fact worlds aren't really the issue here. Philosophers differ sharply in how they think about possible worlds. Some have a robustly realist understanding of them, and others see world-talk as a convenient fiction. But they all agree: given what we mean by 'round' and by 'square' -- given, if you prefer, the concepts we pick out with these words -- it's not possible for anything to be both round and square. Put another way: the world might have been different in an infinity of respects. It might have had golden mountains; it might have had creatures made of silicon; it might have had very different physical laws. But it couldn't have had round squares.

Of course someone could use the words 'round' and 'square' differently, and depending on what they meant, the things they use the sound "round" to describe might overlap with the thing falling under their use of the sound "square." But given what we mean, round squares are impossible. And since they are impossible, there aren't any possible worlds with round squares -- whether or not those worlds include beings with different concepts than ours, or beings who have any concepts at all.

Now you might ask how we know this truth about roundness and squareness. It's a perfectly good question whose answer is still controversial. And it may be that some of our opinions about such matter are flat-out wrong; we may think some things are possible that really aren't. For the advocate of possible worlds, this means that, contrary to our opinion, there are no worlds where such things are true. Likewise we may think some thing are impossible that really are possible. But if they are possible, it's not because some nearby set of concepts fit together in certain ways, nor because some other beings might talk or think differently than we do. It's because, for example, X and Y -- what we mean by 'X' and 'Y' -- don't actually exclude one another. Like so many things, it's not really about us.

What is an abstract concept, exactly? Is there any consensus regarding their

What is an abstract concept, exactly? Is there any consensus regarding their definition among philosophers? What would be an example of a non-abstract concept then? And why? Thanks for your time (Juan J.).

good question. I might rephrase it slightly: which concepts are concepts of abstract things? then we offer one kind of definition of an abstract thing: a thing which (say) isn't located (or isn't the kind of thing to be located) in any one particular time or space. On this definition many concepts would not be of abstract things, such as the concepts of a chair, or a tree, or a building -- for each of these is the kind of thing, of physical material thing, which does enjoy locations. There may also be "mental things", "minds", which fit this definition, but then that depends on just what your concept of "mind" is! (Some philosophers think the mental is ultimately physical in nature, others not, which might affect how to classify it with respect to the 'abstract.') Then lots of other things would fall into the abstract category: concepts of truth, justice, freedom, many mathematical concepts, for example. Or to get very philosophical here: there is much debate whether we can have concepts of "general" or "universal" things, as opposed to "particular" things. For example, it's one thing to think of a particular tree (say, the oak tree located in your yard); it's another to think of the category of "oak trees", which somehow encompasses every single particular oak tree without being identical to any one particular tree; it's another again to think of "trees in general", which somehow encompasses every single particular tree, oak and non-oak, past present and future ... The concept of the particular tree in your front yard is not abstract, by our definition; that of "tree in general" may well be (since "tree in general" must leave out many of traits which distinguish one kind of tree from another); and that of "oak trees", well that's somewhere in between.

that's a start, anyway!


Does anybody seriously believe that reality itself is merely a function of

Does anybody seriously believe that reality itself is merely a function of language, thought and social convention? Some postmodernists like to say this ("reality is socially constructed"), but I doubt any of them would be willing to drink arsenic that has been socially reconstructed into harmless water. Furthermore, if reality is a function of these other factors, then one could not expect anything unexpected to happen (in a reality that is a function of thought, why should a volcano suddenly erupt if nobody thought of it?); yet the unexpected clearly does happen. So why do people stick to extreme versions of anti-realism and constructivism, when more moderate positions that don't deny an external reality, yet still conserve the valuable aspects of postmodernism (understanding of culture, power structures, categorization and convention; deconstruction of beliefs & ideologies; interpretations of and assignment of meaning to natural phenomena; etc.), are perfectly reasonable and tenable?

Hm, you'd first have to specify who you mean by the proponents of "extreme versions" of anti-realism etc, and then ask them directly! (I'm not an expert here but I wonder if some very respectable philosophers (such as Goodman, Putnam, Quine etc) can often get reprsented in ways more extreme than are accurate ...) ... Even a classic idealist of the Berkeleyan variety (ie Berkeley himself), though claiming that all reality is mind-dependent perceptions (and the perceivers of those perceptions) does NOT hold that reality is arbitrary, up to us, constructed by us -- that it's in any sense 'up to us' whether a volcano erupts or whether arsenic kills us-- he holds (at least) that something external to our minds, namely God, controls all that good stuff. So, too, I imagine, contemporary anti-realists (don't know if anyone endorses Berkeleyan idealism/anti-realism any more) would hold that while everything we say about the world, everythign we think about the world, every proposition we utter, etc. is "constructed" or influenced by our cognitive structure or theory-laden etc., it needn't follow that what happens is up to us entirely and in every way -- rather the claim (as I understand it) is more that we can never perfectly reflect in our concepts and language etc. the way things are in reality, how things are in themselves, independent of our ways of conceiving them or interacting with them ... And this, I imagine is what you're calling the more "moderate" position here -- but it is, I think, much more what almost every "anti-realist" holds than the extreme position you are questioning ....

(I could be wrong on this, not being an expert on the literature; but, in short, I suspect you're attacking a straw man, as they say.)

hope that's useful--


Is it possible to conceive of an irrational entity or can only rational things

Is it possible to conceive of an irrational entity or can only rational things be conceived of? Can irrational things exist? Of course it depend on how you define rational but maybe vagueness has more creative potential for philosophical thought.

You are right that the answer or reply will depend on what is meant by "rational" and "irrational." If "irrational" means something (some state of affairs or entity) that defies the laws of logic, this is doubtful. Take the law of identity (everything is itself or A is A) and the law of non-contradiction (A is not not A). Thinking or speaking seems to require both; we must assume that when we think of A (whatever), we are thinking of A and this is not the same as thinking of notA. But if "irrational hings" is more broadly defined and refers to subjects who act or think in ways that seem unreasonable or (at least to us) unintelligible, then matters change. If we pursue this a bit further, though, and ask about how irrational an agent might be, we may come up with some internal limits. That is, so long as a person is acting it may be that she or he has to have some reason or other for their action; the reason may be very odd or fleeting or not fully conscious or out of touch with reality, but if a person acts on the basis of no reason whatsoever (even subconscious) we may think that the person is not so much acting but reacting or merely moving or he or she has become the equivalent of a zombie.

Is the expression "ex nihilo nihil fit" which means "nothing comes from nothing

Is the expression "ex nihilo nihil fit" which means "nothing comes from nothing" still widely accepted by modern philosophers?

I think the better question might be whether scientists accept it, and while I can't provide a genuinely empirical answer, my suspicion is YES -- otherwise there would be little motivation to pursue theories and explanations about the world ... It's precisely because we seek to explain "where" things/events come from and "how" they occur that we pursue science, and that seems to presuppose your principle -- and indeed my (shallow) understanding of contemporary physics suggests (a) on the surface they reject that principle, in holding (say) that empty space can spontaneously give rise to matter but (b) in fact they support the principle because empty space ends up being conceived to be or express a quantity of energy, which is not "nothing" -- so in fact there IS no such thing as purely "empty" space ....

Now there probably are philosophers who reject the principle -- if you're the sort who rejects the fundamental intelligiblity of the world (and there are those) then you probably are not attracted to the principle -- but then many philosophers surely do accept it, as a presupposition, even, of the very activity of philosophy.

hope that's useful


Somethings are said to exist in the mind rather than in the real world but can

Somethings are said to exist in the mind rather than in the real world but can something really be said to exist "inside" the mind? Doesn't that assume that the mind can contain things?

Strange, isn't it? Maybe the key is to appreciate that not all "containment" or things with an inside are physical or spatial. So we might talk about how a theory of justice should contain or include an account of property rights or a theory of what the mind is should contain an account of the origin of mind. And we might talk about what is inside or included in a concept or theory we might even speak of trying to get inside someone else's mind --which (I hope) is not a literal matter but a metaphorical way of speaking about understanding someone else's thoughts and feelings! Pointing out that we use the language of "containment" and "Inside" in nonphysical, non-spatial contexts may make things seem more mysterious than ever! But perhaps we need to appreciate that our language and ways of thinking about ourselves invovles more than speaking of concrete spatial things that contain things, like the way our brain is contained in our head!

What is reality? Why cant we ever truly experience what is really out there

What is reality? Why cant we ever truly experience what is really out there since we are stuck behind our own perceptions created by our mind.

Interesting question! There are philosophers who would seek to undermine the whole picture of ourselves that is presupposed by your question. Some of them argue that we do make direct contact with the objects we touch, feel, smell, hear, and taste and that the idea that we only directly deal with sensations (or what is sometimes called "sense-data") is an illusion brought on by people like Descartes or, in the 20th century, by Bertrand Russell or A.J. Ayer. But I am inclined to think we do not directly feel and see what is around us; while I think we do (under normal circumstances) relaibly see and feel "what is really out there" this is mediated (in my view) by sensations, our visual field and so on. On this view, skepticism of an even very radical sort is conceivable. It is logically possible (I suggest) for the movie the Matrix to be right; we merely think we see what is really there, but we are being manipulated by complex computers to have the sensations we are having.

One other matter to consider: Your first question "What is reality?" has been at the heart of a great deal of philosophy historically. One of the important points that has been made is that when people worry whether they only face a world of appearance, they can at least be confident in the reality of appearances. Augustine used such reasoning in his reply to the skeptics of his day who seemed keen on doubting everything. Augustine countered that there are some things that cannot be doubted (the self, and appearances, among other things).

If something as blatant as the color green can be said to not exist isn't

If something as blatant as the color green can be said to not exist isn't conceivable that nothing exists?

To begin with, why should we think that colors do notexist? Many philosophers have arguedthat colors are secondary properties,that is, they are properties that are perceived, and as such properly exist inthe perceiving mind rather than external objects. But many of those philosophersalso think that there are primary qualities which external objects haveindependently of the mind, and which, together with the perceiver, areresponsible for the perceived secondary qualities. On that view, colors exist, they just are not“in” external objects. Some philosophers, such as Berkeley,deny the existence of the material world, but maintain that colors and other “sensiblequalities” are real perceptions in the mind. But aside from the question of thereality of color, the question of whether total non-existence is conceivable isan important (and related) philosophical question. I recommend Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy as a starting point.

Is a universe where absolutely nothing exists conceivable without contradiction?

Is a universe where absolutely nothing exists conceivable without contradiction?

It does not seem inconceivable to me: especially if one draws a distinction between a universe and the objects in it, it certainly seems conceptually possible. And a brief search on the web suggests that this conclusion is not merely the result of uninformed, armchair speculation: click on this link.