Exploring Ontology

It's all about the deep questions.

Category Archives: Math and Logic

A Problem for Platonism

A familiar problem for the philosophy of mathematics is the ontology of mathematics. One view, platonism, maintains that the things that mathematicians talk about, ultimately sets, actually exist as mind-independent abstract objects. Here’s one problem for the view that I’ve come up with, although being no expert in the field, it could have some conceptual mistake.

1. If platonism is true, there is a fact of the matter as to what cardinalities sets can be.

2. If there is a fact of the matter as to what cardinalities sets can be, we can take the union of one set for every cardinality that there is.

3. The resulting set A must have the same cardinality as one of its subsets A’, since by hypothesis there exists subsets of A with every cardinality.

4. The resulting set A must have at least the same cardinality as the powerset of A’, since the powerset of A’ is a distinct cardinality and there must be a subset of A with the cardinality of the powerset of A’.

5. Therefore, the resulting set A must have a cardinality both equal to and not equal to (greater than) A’.

6. Therefore, platonism is false.


God and Perfect Worlds

The most well-known argument against the existence of God is the problem of evil, which basically asks why there is so much pointless suffering and evil when the world is really governed by an all loving, all powerful, all knowing being. Most people think this is a problem since God wouldn’t make a world with pointless suffering. However, I think one can go further. Not only does a perfect God have to make a world without pointless suffering, he would also have to make a perfect world. But is a perfect world even possible? Here, I would like to defend two propositions:

1) If God exists, then no possible world would be better than the actual world.

2) There is a possible world that is better than the actual world.

From 1 and 2, it would follow that God doesn’t exist.

Note: Here I am using “better” in a moral sense. For example, a world with a total of 100 people who all were loving Christians would be “better” than a world with a total of 100 people who were all arrogant, sinful atheists where all other factors were constant between the two worlds.

Premise 1

God is supposed to be a perfect being of which no greater can be conceived. But, if God created a world that was worse than some other possible world that he could have created, isn’t it pretty easy to conceive of a greater being? Namely, one who would have actually created that better world! As far as I see it, this premise is hard to deny. God wouldn’t just draw a world from the “all possible worlds” hat and make it the actual world; he would carefully choose which world to create. Furhtermore, if he were asked why he picked that world as opposed to any other world, he would be able to give reasons why he considered the actual world “better” than any other one. And, since he is all-knowing, he would be right in choosing the world that he did. I would think that the vast majority of theists would agree with these observations.

Premise 2

Again, I think this is a fairly uncontroversial premise. In facing the problem of evil, theists usually deny the existence of pointless suffering by countering with various theodicies, or explanations why evil occurs (For example, God permitted the holocaust to let Hitler exercise his free will). To deny this premise, the theist would have to take a much stronger stance, however. Denying this premise is stronger since asserting that this world is perfect among all possible worlds implies that there is no pointless suffering, but asserting that there is no pointless suffering does not entail that this world is perfect among all possible worlds. So, first of all, in support of this premise I would like to drag all of the observations that atheists have made over the centuries in support of the existence of pointless suffering since they would add support to this premise as well. Additionally, however I would like to argue for the impossibility of a perfect world.

In arguing that that there is no such thing as a morally perfect world, it will be useful to introduce a sort of rough-and-ready “scale” of moral goodness. “0” would be a sort of morally neutral world (for example a world that just consists of empty space with no living things and no moral goods or moral evils). The more positive it gets, the better the world, and the more negative it gets, the worse the world. One reasonalbe observation about moral goodness is that it is additive. For example, if a universe X had a rating of 3 and another universe Y had a rating of 3, then if God were to create a multiverse containing universe X and universe Y, the rating of the multiverse would be strictly greater than 3. This assumption that moral goodness is additive is backed by strong intuitions. Which one is better: sponsoring 1 child in Africa or sponsoring 10 children in Africa? From here, the problem is straightforward. No matter what our rating on the scale is, God could always have decided to make our universe a multiverse with one additional universe with a positive rating. The resulting multiverse would be a possible world that is better than the actual world.

*Technical Observation Involving Math

One possible objection would be to claim that the actual world really is a multiverse consisting of infinitely many pocket universes each with a positive rating. This would result in a rating of infinite, and hence no multiverse could have a higher rating. This objection doesn’t succeed however. First of all, only theists who are perfectly comfortable with the actual infinite can make this objection (I’m looking at you Kalam Cosmological Argument supporters). Second of all, there are infinitely many different sizes of infinity, and there is no such thing as an infinity that is larger than all other infinities according to set theory. Therefore, say that the multiverse God created had a number of universes equal to an infinite cardinality X. According to set theory, the powerset of a set with a cardinality of X has a cardinality that is strictly larger. So, this objection fails.

The Racetrack Paradox

In this paradox Zeno argues that all motion is impossible, which is a pretty substantial conclusion. What kind of reasoning could possibly lead someone to this completely counterintuitive conclusion? Well here is the gist of the story that Zeno spells out:

Imagine Achilles wanted to complete a race, lets say it was one mile long for convenience. It’s clear that if he wants to complete the race, he will eventually have to make it to the half way point. After he finishes the task of traversing the first half mile, he must then reach the half way point between 1/2 a mile and 1 mile. So, he must now finish the task of getting to the 3/4 mile point. However, continuing along this line of thought, Achilles has infinitely many tasks to complete! He has to traverse 1/2 a mile, 3/4 a mile, 7/8 a mile, 15/16 a mile, etc. Each task will also take a finite number of time! Since it is logically impossible to complete a series of infinitely many tasks (each requiring a finite amount of time), Zeno tells us that Achilles can never finish the race. Furthermore, this argument can easily be generalized to anything moving from point A to point B where A and B are distinct.

The Racetrack Argument

1. If something is to move from A to B, where A and B are distinct, then it would have to complete an infinite number of tasks.

2. It is impossible for anything to complete an infinite number of tasks.

3. Therefore, nothing can move from A to B, where A and B are distinct.

So, now we should take a hard look at the premises. Read more of this post

My Philosophical Beliefs

As a bit of a background to my other posts, it often helps to know where I’m coming from. So, I’ve decided to chronicle my personal beliefs in all manners philosophical. Philosophical jargon is usually linked to a corresponding article (usually wikipedia when applicable) to give a brief overview of the term for convenience. For those who want to look into it further, I highly recommend the corresponding entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This post will probably be updated every now and then since my beliefs change pretty often, relatively speaking. Here it goes!

Formal Epistemology: Bayesian. Although I recognize that it needs to have some of the details scrutinized (for example the problem of old evidence presupposes logical omniscience), I largely believe it is on the right track. An excellent “updater” for your beliefs given the evidence.

Traditional Epistemology: Some work in traditional epistemology I find useful (combatting skeptical arguments and arguing over various epistemological theories), and some work I find not so useful (conceptual analysis on the word “knowledge” and debates over the viability of meaningful a priori knowledge). Overall, I think I find a modest foundationalism most attractive, even though it can result in a weak form of skepticism.

Ethics: For me, there are deep unsolved questions in meta-ethics that must be tackled first before we are willing to accept any view in normative ethics. Mackie’s classic “Inventing Right and Wrong” has been very influential on me however, so I identify as a tentative error theorist. Even though I do hold this view, morality definitely is a useful fiction that we should all abide by (See here). So, I do think that moral issues are important in this regard. I became a vegetarian for example through arguments from the animal rights movement.

Free Will: Source incompatibilist (first couple of paragraphs define it). Its unfortunate that this problem has to drag out for millennia in philosophy. It almost seems to me that philosophers agree on the facts of the matter; they just disagree on whether the facts are sufficient for a robust form of free will. People who believe in free will acknowledge that if determinism is true than our actions are sufficiently caused by events thousands of years ago (by definition). Most also agree that we have no ultimate control over the way we are. Still further most agree that a large bulk of our actions seem to have their source in unconscious processes. Similarly, those who reject free will recognize that we do behave in an orderly way according to our desires and beliefs, and we have the power to deliberate over “potential” (or perceived) outcomes and choose among them. They also believe that, intuitively, it is obvious that we have free will (they just reject those intuitions).

Philosophy of Math: Structuralist with an anti-realist bent.

Metametaphysics: In metaphysics there seem to be 2 types of questions, those that are substantial and based on non-linguistic truths such as “Does God exist?”, and those that are not (mereological composition anyone?) Unfortunately, in my personal readings it seems as though there are more of the latter. I am skeptical of most things metaphysical.

Consciousness: Surprisingly, I find myself increasingly persuaded by the property dualist view (this is very tentative). Hence, I am driven to reject physicalism (tentatively).

Philosophy of Religion: Strong atheist, weak adeist (if I can coin that word). I certainly do not find any argument for the existence of God persuasive. I do think that there are strong arguments against the traditional conception of God as actively performing miracles, as having a peculiar fascination with one species in the universe (homo sapiens, lucky us), and who is all loving, all good, etc. As for a deistic conception of God, it is sufficiently vague that I think it cannot have a strong refutation. Hence, weak a-deist.

Philosophy of Time: B-theory