Sunday, February 28, 2016

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.

But the most important thing to come from all of this, first, is that all objects are found in object domains, and that there are many different object domains. If, for example, I want to visit an office, it would be confusing object domains to suggest that the domain of the office concerns electrons and chemical bonds. Indeed, the “physical or chemical analysis of a particular point in space-time taken from the office is no longer an analysis of the office” (24). So, to say that my office is located in the universe is not quite correct. The universe is merely the domain of objects of natural sciences, especially physics. The office may include some of this, but also other domains.

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). 

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 4

This post completes my summary of Gabriel's introduction. Pt 1 is here, which sums up his discussion of metaphysics and constructivism. This set the stage for his own proposal, which is discussed in Pt 2, here, where I summarised his introduction of "new realism". Pt 3, here, introduces the notion of a plurality of worlds, different domains of existence. Today we canvas Gabriel's insistence that to ask about existence is to ask where something exists, which builds on Pt 3.

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

Less than Nothing

Metaphysics claims that there is an all-encompassing rule, world formula (seen in the history of metaphysics from Thales of Miletus through Karl Marx to Stephen Hawking). Constructivism, claims that we cannot know the rule. New realism, “attempts consistently and seriously to answer the question whether, in principle, such a rule could exist” (11-12).

To answer this question, and develop his wider argument, it is necessary to understand what it means for something to exist at all. The key, here, is to ask where something exists. So the apparently obvious question is that for something to exist, it should exist only when found in the world. But the world is not found in the world. Gabriel asserts that “the world cannot in principle exist because it is not found in the world” (12). It cannot be sensed, tasted or touched. Nor is our thinking about it identical to the object of its thought. This is to say that we “can never grasp the whole. It is in principle too big for any thought” (12). This leads Gabriel to suggest that all worldviews are equally misguided (13).

The upshot is that Gabriel can assert a lot more exists than would be expected. If I can imagine unicorns on the other side of the moon, then they exist. But obviously these things do not exist in the object domain of the physical sciences. The key question is where these things exist, “[f]or everything that exists, exists somewhere – even if it is only in our imagination. Again, the one exception is the world… What we imagine when we believe in the world is, as in the apt title of a recent book by the star philosopher Slavoj Žižek, so to speak, ‘less than nothing’” (14, italics mine).

Next, we turn to his first chapter, What is this Actually: the World?

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 3

Please see Pt 1, which sums up the beginning of Gabriel's introduction, particularly his discussion of metaphysics and constructivism. This set the stage for his own proposal, which is discussed in Pt 2, where I summarised his introduction of "new realism".

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

The Plurality of Worlds

Gabriel argues that the world is much bigger than the universe (which is the object domain the natural sciences). For the world includes things like dreams, unrealised possibilities, thoughts about the world and so on. This leads to what he calls “a first step in the right direction” in his definition of “the world”. It is the:

“…domain of all the domains mentioned above [governments, dreams, object domain etc.]. Consequently, the world would be the domain in which there exist not only all things and facts [a word he will define and deploy later in his argument] which occur without us, but also all the things and facts which occur only with us. For ultimately it should be the domain that comprises everything – life, the universe, and everything else” (9).

But, and this is the main thesis of the book, the world, so understood, does not and cannot exist. Further, and lest he be misunderstood, “I claim not only that the world does not exist but also that everything exists except the world” (9).

He offers a preliminary illustration to make his claim understandable:

“Let us imagine that we meet friends for dinner at a restaurant. Is there a domain here that encompasses all other domains? Can we, so to speak, draw a circle around everything that belongs to our visit to the restaurant?” (9)

Gabriel elaborates the very different domains involved at this point. There are different customers, invisible bacteria, hormonal fluctuations, moods, and events at the subatomic level to name just a few. Importantly, he makes a claim about things being disconnected. These worlds are not necessarily influencing one another, but are independent (“It is simply false that everything is connected” [10]). Thus, and this is the key argument, “there are many small worlds, but not the one world to which they all belong. This does not mean that the many small worlds are only perspectives on one world, but that only the many small worlds exist” (10). The world as a whole cannot exist as little as there is a connection which encompasses all connections. There is, Gabriel claims, “simply no rule or world formula that describes everything. This is not contingent on the fact that we have not yet found it, but on the fact they cannot exist at all” (11).

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 2

Please click here for Pt 1, which sums up the beginning of Gabriel's introduction, particularly his discussion of metaphysics and constructivism. This is to set the stage for his own proposal, which is discussed in what follows.

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

New Realism

The position Gabriel presents, however, rejects what he dubs as metaphysics and constructivism. New realism, over against both of these, asserts that knowledge is not a collective hallucination. New realism “assumes that we recognise the world as it is in itself. Of course we can be mistaken, for in some situations we indeed find ourselves in an illusion. But it is simply not the case that we are always or almost always mistaken” (5).

He offers a helpful illustration: Imagine Mount Vesuvius is looked at from Sorrento, by Astrid, and Naples, by us. Metaphysics says there is only one real object, namely Vesuvius. Constructivism claims that there are two objects, Astrid’s Vesuvius and our Vesuvius. “Beyond that there is absolutely no object or thing in itself – at least, no object which we could ever hope to know” (6). New realism, however, claims that there are three objects: 1. Vesuvius, 2. Vesuvius viewed from Sorrento by Astrid and 3. Vesuvius viewed from Naples by us (actually, Gabriel points out that this is two views, me and you).

This is the key: “New realism assumes that thoughts about facts exist with the same right as the facts at which our thoughts are directed” (6). Ultimately, metaphysics and constructivism fail …

“…because of an unjustified simplification of reality, in which they understand reality unilaterally either as the world without spectators or, equally one-sided, as the world of spectators … The world is neither exclusively the world without spectators nor the world of spectators. This is new realism. Old realism – that is metaphysics – was only interested in the world without spectators, while constructivism quite narcissistically grounded the world and everything that is the case and our fantasies. Both theories lead to nothing” (7).


This is to say that both metaphysics and constructivism cannot explain how there can be spectators in a world in which spectators do not exist at all times and in all places (see page 7). Gabriel claims that this problem is solved by the introduction of a new ontology, which he will go on to explain in what follows (Gabriel also uses this opportunity to wax against materialism, and explain that if all that exists is that which can be investigated by natural science, the federal state of Germany would not exist, nor would the future etc). 

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Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 1

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

The Preamble: Thinking Philosophy Anew

Gabriel, as his “first principle”, attempts to outline a new philosophy in this book, “which follows from a simple, basic thought”: “the idea that the world does not exist” (1). This is not to say that nothing exists at all, but rather to claim that everything exists except one thing: the world.
Second, this book presents new realism, which is the name Gabriel gives for the age after postmodernity. This leads into an explanatory digression about the difference between metaphysics, constructivism, and new realism.

Appearance and Being

Metaphysics is defined as the attempt to develop “a theory of the world as such. Its aim is to describe how the world really is, not how the world seems to be or how it appears to us. In this way, metaphysics, to a certain extent, invented the world in the first place. When we speak about ‘the world’, we mean everything that actually is the case, or, put differently: actuality” (2). Metaphysics claims that there is a world behind the one that appears to us, and that in order to find out the way the world really is, we need to subtract the interpreter.
However, postmodernity responds by claiming that “things exist only insofar as they appear to us”, so there is no way of getting behind the interpreter (3). Gabriel notes that some, like Richard Rorty, might leave open the possibility that there might be something “behind the world as it appears to us” (3), but this would play no role for human beings. Rather, we increase solidarity amongst humans by giving up the search for Truth or Reality.

But this postmodernity is actually a single variation of a much more general approach, namely constructivism. We construct all facts, including scientific ones, by means of language games. “There is no reality beyond our language games or discourses; they somehow do not really talk about anything, but only about themselves” (3). Gabriel speaks of Immanuel Kant in this regard, and offers the example of colours. Though elementary particles, they appear to us as colours. This is to say that the world is completely different from the way it appears to us. Kant was even more radical for he claimed “that even this assumption… – about particles in space-time – is only a way in which the world, as it is in itself, appears to us. How it actually is, that is something we could absolutely never discover” (4).

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Link to Word 2016 problems

Can anyone tell me why Word 2016 can't link to my blogger account? Is this a known problem?

Ontology isn't just about what is "material"

"Ontology ultimately concerns the meaning of existence. What are we actually claiming when we say, for example, that there are meerkats? Many people believe that this question is addressed to physicists or, more generally, to natural scientists. In the end, everything that exists could just be material. After all, we don’t seriously believe in ghosts, which can arbitrarily violate natural laws and unrecognisably whirl around us. (Well, most of us don’t believe this.) However, if for this reason we claim that only that which can be investigated by natural science exists and can be dissected, or pictured, by means of the scalpel, microscope, or brain scanner, we would have missed the mark by a long shot. For in this case the federal state of Germany would not exist, nor would the future, numbers, or my dreams. But, because they do, we justifiably hesitate to entrust the question of Being to physicists"
Markus Gabriel, Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015) pp. 7-8