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Is ontological nihilism ontological omnism?

June 6, 2013

In other words: Is the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” equivalent to the question “Is there something rather than everything?”?

That’s one possibility raised by this surprisingly enjoyable article. The author takes a mathematical/informational approach to the problem “why is there something?” and actually says some interesting things using that rather limited toolset. I quite like the measure-based fix for the existential subtraction argument, and the information-theoretic stuff does a decent job trying to talk about form versus matter.

As for the question at hand: Well, they’re not the same, exactly, but they are rival ways of formulating the same skeptical confusion. To paraphrase the linked-to article in a more classical philosophical idiom: to a certain sort of idealist, “Is there something rather than nothing?” is nonsensical–of course the laws of mathematics exist, for example. The question is whether matter exists independent of form; if it doesn’t, everything that can exist, does exist, since it doesn’t make sense to talk about an idea that could exist but doesn’t. If it can be thought, it’s already an idea. So the question becomes, are there things that exist in some “potential” sense, as mathematical equations perhaps, but that don’t “actually” exist in the world?

Is there something rather than everything?

I get why things in general exist, but why these particular things?

This is what the Aristotelian concept “matter” is supposed to deal with, I suppose, but I’m not sure that it solves the problem. Doesn’t it just reduce our confusion by letting us give it a name? Well, maybe. Can philosophy do anything more than that?

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 8, 2013 10:20 pm

    This subject matter is not my daily fare so I had to think this through a couple of times. The matter of form (punny) is an issue. If matter does not rely on form, then matter exists and has the potential of seemingly infinite forms. To then say this means that all that can exist does exist is a stretch… we can say that what we know of as having form is all that can exist from the potential of matter without form yet. It’s not yet an answerable question without the knowledge of all the forms that matter can take. Certainly nature has not created all forms on this one planet. With such a limit on knowledge, we can not say much more than some value X is what we understand as the limit of forms that matter can take, but there may exist potential for matter to take other forms that we do not know of.

    Is matter with form all that can exist? Seems like it, but matter as we know it is confined to this universe and that further confined to the part of this universe that we are familiar with.

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