12 June 2007

Abracadabra, the problem has vanished



Why is there something rather than nothing?

A C Grayling 'proves' — to his own satisfaction at least — that the question is meaningless:

The vacuous hypothesis that there is something because it was created by a supernatural agency can be dismissed. The hypothesis in effect says that the reason there is anything at all is that something else made it, which is either question-begging or invites an explanatorily null regress. It is one of the most persistently lingering human fatuities that the origins of the universe (or indeed anything else) can be explained by arbitrarily invoking an entity equally arbitrarily defined as fully equipped to be the explanation of what is to be explained. ...

A second and better answer is to point out that the question is unanswerable. This is not the same as saying that it is pointless — though it is, given the brute fact that there is indeed something, and that the really interesting questions relate to what exactly that something is, and what if anything in it is valuable from the perspective of conscious experience. ...

Rather, it is unanswerable because it is radically unlike questions that, like "Why do elephants have trunks?" validly prompt an expectation of informative answers. "Why does anything exist?" does not do so because it is like "What colour are ideas?"— it makes a category mistake. For "nothing" denotes privation or absence relative to something, not a state or condition existentially on a par with somethingness. When all the chocolates are eaten, there is nothing in the box because there was something there before; you cannot introduce nothing ("nothingness"?) to a box other than by not putting something in it, or by taking everything out. So the primitive condition is that there is something, and we only understand "nothing" relatively and locally by its absence.

It is quite something to say that there is nothing more to the problem than something like that: but nothing, I submit, is a better answer.
"Better", perhaps, because it enables us to stop worrying that we don't know the answer to what might be an important metaphysical problem? Certainly that quintessentially modernist philosopher Wittgenstein would think so.

"For the clarity we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear." (Investigations I, 133)

6 comments:

Paul said...

Grayling's pretty much the BBC's favourite philosopher: I've lost count of the times he's been wheeled on to opine on various things. Like Polly Toynbee, he has one of those soothing, somnolent voices. Perfect at bed-time with a nice mug of Ovaltine.

August said...

This only works if you are an atheist, and comfortable forgetting the real argument. The real argument was never whether or not there was a god. No, the real argument has always been, my God is bigger than your god, gods, goddesses, etc...

The Prince of Truth said...

august, what do you mean exactly?

the fact is, as Celia Green said, it is inconceivable that anything should exist. There really can be no inherent answer to why there is something. If there is, tell me it

August said...

It's a shell game. Why mention what Celia Green said, for she may not exist! Don't get me wrong, I like Celia, but by her own admission she is inconceivable.
Whether or not there is a god is a short squabble between atheist humanists and Christian humanists. The larger, more persistent argument, the one that existed in Sumerian times, and still goes on today, is the my God v.s. your god debate. The non-Christian, or anti-Christian, faction in the God v.s. god debate will simply kill atheists; they won't come up with ways to try to convince anyone.
Which is why we must remember what this was about; Christian thinkers who tried to come up with ways of talking to atheists by talking about things the atheists claimed were important. It's false to then claim those things aren't important and therefore, the Christians are wrong. The atheists started the whole thing off! How can atheists win the argument by removing the arguments of the original atheists! Before atheists, we were arguing with other people, and with each other. No one can cast this one topic as the context in which all others occur. Quite the contrary.
Humans have always believed in gods, goddesses, and a myriad of other beings, whether angels, demons, genies, or whatever. There are thousand year old arguments that Christians are still having with each other. None of these arguments were particularly similar to the arguments presented to atheists. All of these arguments encompass much more time, effort, and thought than the arguments presented to atheists.
Hopefully, this gives you an inkling of what I mean. I sometimes despair because I only know English. Or, if you prefer, I only know American. The public schools here are terrible, and I sometimes feel the ideas I am trying to elucidate don't play well with the words I know.

Anonymous said...

American. How could we have guessed? Another Born-Again.

Anonymous said...

Silly kumquats.

Logic is quite simply and necessarily based on the _assumption_ of a dual opposition between existence and non-existence. Without this fundamental assumption, there is no Logic at all. Of course, without Logic, you may as well be hauled off to the loony bin (or Kansas where they already deny evolution because a book and some imaginary voices told them so).

You can't prove/disprove existence with Logic when that very means by which we prove anything is based on existence to exist!! It's circular, making any attempt at misusing Logic to rant about existence a comical farce.

I fear that August based on the above is the least likely to get all this. But we can always pray...