Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The random and the necessary

      Suppose that we go with Parmenides' idea that what is, is necessary. Einstein remarked, 'God does not play dice with the universe.' He was talking about physics (objecting to the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics) but he might just as well have been talking metaphysics.
      What is, is necessary.
      But now we have a choice between two radically different ways of construing this 'necessity':
      According to Leibniz, this world is what is, and is necessary, because of God's choice. Being omnibenevolent, God can only choose for the best, therefore this world is the best of all possible worlds.
      According to David Lewis, all possible worlds are equally 'real'. What we term the 'actual world' is no more or less real than all other possible worlds. What is cannot be the actual world, because the actual world is merely a part of what is, not the whole. What is, is the universe of all possible worlds.
      Each of these two alternatives embraces necessity and rejects randomness.
      I don't have any outright objection to the claim that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds. It might be, for all we know, and assuming that there could be an objective criterion for what is 'the absolute best'. The human imagination stretches only so far. If this is the best of all possible worlds, then there seem to be a heck of a lot of 'necessary evils' (even if we are not driven to the point of asserting that everything is a necessary evil as Voltaire remarked sarcastically in Candide). But that is only us, and our limited view. What I reject is the Leibnizian solution to the problem of necessity.
      Either you simply go with the ontological argument, and assert that a being with 'all the perfections', or God, necessarily exists just because 'He' has all the perfections. Or you claim, with Leibniz, that the only conceivable 'sufficient reason' for the existence of our actual world is choice by an being sufficiently powerful and wise that it is impossible that a world could be chosen that was not the 'absolute best' — which entails that such a being is necessarily infinite and not finite.
      The argument from sufficient reason appears to have the form of 'inference to the best explanation'. In this unique case, the 'best explanation' is the only conceivable explanation. There is a sufficient reason, there cannot not be, and an infinitely perfect being is the only explanation that fits this requirement, because only an infinitely perfect being can be a 'reason' for its own existence.
      So it turns out that whichever route you choose, you run into the ontological argument. The argument from sufficient reason appears to give support to the ontological argument (the 'best' explanation is the 'only possible explanation') as well as appealing to the ontological argument (the idea of a being that is a 'reason for its own existence').
      — This is all heavy stuff.
      Sorry, but when I hear the phrase 'infinitely perfect being' the words make no sense to me. It's just a fairy tale. It's not real, regardless of how many philosophers once embraced the idea.
      Because a selection has been made, an infinitely perfect being 'must' exist. But how can Leibniz be so sure that there is a selection? Nothing has been said to rule out the alternative: that all possible worlds are equally 'real', as David Lewis claims.
      But now we run into a problem that doesn't seem to have worried Lewis.
      All possible worlds are equally real. All conscious subjects, qua inhabitants of all possible worlds, are equally real. So here we are, surveying the whole lot, all possible worlds. Or, rather, here I am.
      But where am I?
      More precisely, where to put an 'I-now' that seems completely redundant according to this picture.
      Somehow, from the unqualified necessity of all possible worlds, comes something that seems utterly contingent: I-now, my subjective world, the issue of my existence.
      The sad news for the God party is that Leibniz's theory fares no better than Lewis in this regard.
      As I argued in Naive Metaphysics, even an infinitely perfect being cannot tell the difference between a GK who is I and a GK who is not-I. From the objective standpoint, they are one and the same.
      The solution?
      I argued in The Metaphysics of Meaning that a metaphysic has to explain everything, or it is otiose. If there's just one little bit that you can't fit into your theory, then you have to reject the theory. There's no alternative.
      The 'one little bit' is the I-now.
      You can't extract the I-now from the One (= universe of all possible worlds).
      You can't derive the One from the I-now.
      And so we're back, it seems, with Wittgenstein's 'two godheads'.
      My 'theory of subjective and objective worlds' is part of the story, but not the whole of it. Each a mirror image of the other, both 'worlds' are merely constructions based on 'our' shared language. In Whitehead's terminology, they are not what is actual. To suppose otherwise is the 'fallacy of misplaced concreteness'.
      What is actual is the I-now and the One...
      ... The unspeakable this and the unspeakable that.


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