Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 5
This post begins my summary of Gabriel's first chapter. His introduction is summarised in four parts, all of which can be read here.
Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)
Chapter I. What is this Actually: the World?
You and the Universe
In this chapter, Gabriel philosophically investigates the question “where does everything actually take place?” He illustrates his argument by pointing out the difference between planets and galaxies on the one hand, and living rooms on the other. Because physics “concerns itself not with living rooms but, at best, with physical objects in living rooms”, it is fair to say that living rooms “are simply not found in physics, though planets are” (22-23). This leads to the conclusion that “living rooms and planets do not belong to the same domain of objects at all” (23).
It is important to understand that a domain of objects is a domain which contains particular kinds of objects “in which rules obtain that link these objects with one another” (23). Gabriel offers the following examples of object domains: politics (which includes voters, community festivals, tax dollars et cetera) and whole numbers (which includes the numbers seven and five). This is to say that object domains are not necessarily spatially defined.
All of this allows Gabriel to address a common claim that humans, because they are small specks in a massive universe, cannot be meaningful, significant or important. For genuinely, it does not matter to the dead galaxy, whose light is only just reaching us, whether or not I ate breakfast this morning (26). A best case scenario is that we are “one biological species among others in the universe” (26), moving around simply to increase our own chances of survival. But the real reason for a sense of insignificance that the size of the universe and its indifference to humanity might lend us …
“…depends much more on the fact that we mix up completely different object domains. The universe signifies not merely a thing but also particular kind of perspective… The universe, as large as it is, is only a part of the whole, part to which we have access by the specific methods linked with modern science” (26).
And this move is a mistake. “It would be exactly as if one were to think that there are only plants because one studied botany” (27).
All of this means that there are “many objects which do not exist in the universe” (27). The universe is merely one ontological province among others. But this does not mean “that the other object domains exist entirely outside of the universe, which would be a completely different (and false) theory” (27). Indeed, this leads into a more extensive argument which I will detail in the next post. It tackles the obvious materialist objection, that all the object domains Gabriel sites (offices, living rooms et cetera) belong very well in the universe because they consist of matter (which is studied by physics).