- Many years ago1, I blush to recall, I published some arguments against the existence of all sorts of commonly supposed entities—against rocks and desks, plants and planets, stars and salt shakers, human brains and bodies, and, perish the thought, against us human thinking experiencers, including even the one who’s me.
- By contrast, now I’m trying to develop, in a book2 I’ve been long writing, a humanly realistic philosophy, wherein my existence, and yours, has the status of a quite undeniable philosophic datum.
- As it seems to me now, certain trying ideas then deployed in such nihilistic reasoning may bear importantly on the question of what sort of a humanly realistic view we should adopt. These are ideas to the effect that, where I’m apt first to think that there’s just this one human body, ‘‘my body’’, seated in just this one chair, ‘‘my desk chair’’, there are, more accurately, many billions of human bodies, each seated in many billions of chairs. And, where I’m first given to believe that there’s just one healthy active brain, ‘‘my brain’’, promoting someone’s mentality, there may be many billions of brains, each of them largely overlapping so many of the others, and each serving, quite equally, to promote a thinking, experiencing and choosing human being, or human self. Maybe each brain promotes the very same mind, or self, as do each of the others, in which case there’s just one self promoted (rather redundantly?) by them all; or maybe each promotes a numerically distinct conscious individual, in which case many billions of experiencers may be, in my situation, simultaneously promoted. Right now, these remarks should seem no better than cryptic comments; but, in the course of this essay their import should become clearer.
- These trying ideas might provide, I’ll be suggesting, much force against the Scientiphical View that each of us is a highly complex wholly physical thing, with each of our powers just some sort of (physically derivative) physical power; or, on a less popular version of Scientiphicalism, each of us is epiphenomenal on, or supervenient on, a highly complex wholly physical thing. And they might also provide much force against a related Emergentist View, on which each of us is a physical-and-mental complex. Without further ado, let’s encounter these trying ideas.
- In chronological order, the most directly nihilistic of these papers are:
- "Unger (Peter) - There are no Ordinary Things" (1979)
- "Unger (Peter) - I Do Not Exist" (1979) and
- "Unger (Peter) - Why There Are No People" (1979).
- The main thrust of these papers is the articulation of a nihilistic approach to various sorites3 arguments. Typically, these arguments trade on the (for all I really know perfectly correct) idea that an extremely minute difference between two ordinary entities—minute as regards propensities as well as all sorts of other things—will never mean the difference between one of them being a rock, for example, and the other not being a rock, or the difference between one being a thinking being and the other not being a thinking being.
- Less directly nihilistic are a few other papers, including "Unger (Peter) - The Problem of the Many" (1980). In this paper none of the key ideas has anything much to do with any sorites4 arguments, or with ‘‘discriminative vagueness’’, though a casual glance at these key ideas may often give such an erroneous impression.
- Right now, I’ll warn you against conflating these two very different sorts of nihilistic reasoning. And, in the bargain, I’ll warn against mistaking, for any sorites5 argument, or any reasoning at all concerning discriminative vagueness, the trying thoughts I’m about to supply in this present essay.
- Finally, I signal that, while several of this essay’s key ideas do arise from issues central to ‘‘The Problem of the Many’’6, some of these presently central ideas go, in various important respects, far beyond anything considered in that old paper. (While there are great differences between the thoughts of this new essay and the ideas of the older one, an attempt to detail the differences looks to be more distracting than instructive.)
See Unger - The Mental Problems of the Many. Also Link.
Footnote 1: See “Footnote 1”, above.
Footnote 2: This is "Unger (Peter) - All the Power in the World".
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- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
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