Saturday, 13 May 2017

Questions about the One

      Frankly, I don't know whether I believe this or not. But didn't I say, 'You can believe anything, you can disbelieve anything'?
      You build your metaphysic, just as Descartes said (he was doing metaphysics, not epistemology!) on the thing you can't deny, the absolute rock-solid, gritty, inexplicable fact that this is. (And I'm not talking about the 'myth of the given', you epistemologists.)
      Fichte takes 'I' as his starting point. Posit the 'I' as the the Real. To my knowledge, Fichte is the only philosopher who has done that. Start with I. There can't be I without not-I. The I cannot act, and therefore cannot be without the 'positing' of something 'external' to it.
      Or take Hegel. You start with Being, Parmenides' One. Philosophers like Schelling who think they've found reality in Being have merely found 'the night in which all cows are black'. Being, thought of in this way, as absolutely undifferentiated, lacking any specific quality, is no different from Nothing.
      Now, this is where things get interesting. Hegel says that the 'synthesis' of Being (thesis) and Nothing (antithesis) is Becoming. Somehow, time has wiggled its way in there. Determinacy, qualities, 'being not' something, can only arise for a world in time, says Hegel.
      Leslie Armour, 'doing a Hegel' in his book Logic and Reality (Van Gorcum 1972) ventures the opinion that Hegel was wrong. The third stage has got to be 'Determinate Being'. Well, I vote for Hegel here. Without a temporal dimension, you can get mathematical determinacy (remember, mathematical entities are 'pure abstract objects', they exist in all possible worlds) but not physical determinacy. There couldn't be a possible world without time. To be, physically or mentally, is in some sense to persist — for some period of time.
      OK, so I have my I-now (from Naive Metaphysics onward, in The Metaphysics of Meaning I dismissed it as an 'inexplicable illusion'). But I also have 'necessary being', the universe of all possible worlds, condensed into the One. Two starting points, not one. And the interesting thing (or rather the totally frustrating thing) is that there seems to be no way to connect the One to the I-now.
      I can say that all conscious subjects in all possible worlds are 'I-now'. That's a lot but I'm not worried about numbers. But then the same old question comes up, why there is, or how there can be this I-now when there is a possible world identical to this world in every respect where there is not this I-now.
      Then what about these 'possible worlds'? David Lewis in his book On the Plurality of Worlds (building on his earlier Counterfactuals, which I studied in my undergraduate days) is one of a few (how few?) philosophers claiming that all possible worlds are equally 'real', including our so-called 'actual' world. It's all a matter of perspective, he says.
      The problem is, when philosophers talk about 'possible worlds', it's always linked to the conceptual resources of a given language. There are many more possible worlds than that! In fact, you can't count them, you can't arrange them in a space of any number of finite dimensions (n-dimensional space, where n is a real number). Take any method of measurement, arrangement you like, there will always be countlessly many possible worlds in between the two closest possible worlds that you are able to discern in your method of description, whatever it is.
      (Quine effectively made this point with his 'rhinoceros in the doorway' example in his essay 'On What There Is'. Possibilia don't have any meaningful identity. 'No entity without identity.')
      So, in my picture of the One (aptly named, it seems) there is no point at which, when the magnification is turned up sufficiently high, you being to discern individual possible worlds. They're all together, smeared, indistinguishable. Cows in the night. You end up viewing the One as just a source of endless 'potential' (sound familiar?).
      On the other hand, if you start with our 'actual' world, and have counterfactual thoughts about various ways the world could have been, then you have a method for constructing a strictly limited set of possible worlds (relative to the language). Maybe, one could extend the construction indefinitely, Working backwards, you approach the starting point of the One asymptotically.
      Back to the I-now. It's a starting point because it's undeniable (for Cartesian sorts of reasons). Metaphysics is defined (I say) by the fact that 'I am asking the question'. On the other hand, the One is a starting point because I believe that 'something is'. But what I mean by 'is' is something that could not exist contingently. There must be something necessary because the universe is not a 'game of dice'.
      There is this. And there is that. The this and the that seem to bear no relation to one another, there's no line of argument connecting them, other than the sheer fact that each (I say) is undeniable.
      An idiotic conundrum...
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