Recently, I had an argument with someone who stated that the chance of experiencing nothing after death is extremely low. Their reasoning was that one can think of many more metaphysical realities in which something else exists that would influence what we experience after death. So, if we look at the chances of nothing metaphysical existing compared to the chances of something metaphysical existing (which, at least for some of these possibilities, something is experienced after death), it seems extremely unlikely that nothing metaphysical exists, and also that nothing is experienced after death.

While it seems as if this argument is invalid, I have difficulty refuting it. What, if anything, is wrong with this argument?

  • Was the argument only verbal or was there a reference that you were reading as well? The reference might help put the argument in context giving more detail. Welcome! Jun 15, 2019 at 16:51
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    No, it is not possible to enumerate speculative hypotheses, let alone assign probabilities to them, in a meaningful way. One can split metaphysical non-existence into multiple options based on some other factors to bump up its likelyhood, for example, or achieve any desired result by such manipulations. And there is no reason why the options should be equally likely in the first place. The mistake of this argument is similar to one (of several) in the Pascal's wager, see What fallacy in Pascal's Wager allows replacing God with the devil?
    – Conifold
    Jun 16, 2019 at 10:10
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    My guess is, because many find them intuitively appealing, for the wrong reasons. Aside from the fact that our probabilistic intuitions are known to be very poor even in ordinary circumstances, transplanting Bayesian patterns of updating ordinary beliefs based on ordinary evidence to the metaphysical beyond constantly invites the base rate fallacy. In short, these are intuition pumps, to borrow Dennett's term about the qualia/consciousness arguments, which are also very popular. This is the Wykstra-Alston objection to Rowe in the article you linked, ironically, backed by intuition counterpumps
    – Conifold
    Jun 17, 2019 at 16:59
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    "Relatively more likely" may save the validity of the argument, but it makes its conclusion nebulous. If we start from "setting the probability of God’s existing at 0.5 and the probability of God’s not existing at 0.5" because... we cleared our mind, it is garbage in garbage out, as they say. It is not even clear what salient meaning the base rate can have in this case, or the updated probabilities, for that matter.
    – Conifold
    Jun 17, 2019 at 20:55
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    It is an inference of the sort:"if x made sense, and we set it equal to 0.5, then X would make it smaller". Except we have no clue if it does, or what it is even if it did. Why even bother objecting to something like that? The most rational thing seems to be a shrug.
    – Conifold
    Jun 17, 2019 at 21:08

7 Answers 7


I think it's irrelevant whether the argument is valid because the conclusion reports only what "seems" likely to your interlocutor, which is not particularly interesting.

There's no (known) objective probability measure over all metaphysically possible worlds. So the probabilities (chances) in the argument you report must be subjective, which is just to say that they express the idiosyncratic opinions of the person advancing the argument. If you happen to have different opinions, then there's no reason for you to accept the argument's premises.

Moreover, it's not even clear that subjective probabilities can be defined for all metaphysically possible worlds. Probabilities are defined on sets, and there are too many metaphysically possible worlds for the collection of all of them to form a set (they form a proper class). For example, for every cardinal number x, it is metaphysically possible that I have experiences for exactly x seconds after I die; and the set of cardinal numbers is too big to form a set.

(Incidentally, this answers your title question: the set of metaphysical hypotheses cannot be enumerated. The set of metaphysical hypotheses is too big to form a set, let alone a countable set.)

In sum, the best case scenario here is that your interlocutor has deduced some consequences of his/her idiosyncratic opinions, which you might not and need not share. The worst case scenario is that the premises of the argument don't even make sense (i.e. they're not reconcilable with standard ideas about probability, sets, metaphysics, etc.).


There is no chance ,all metaphysical realities are experiential ,so there is no chance and there is no proof ,but if you take the experiential reality as reference then there is more probability that there is a continuity after death than not because everything is in flux and nothing ceases to be completely ,everything changes its form and since we know little about human consciousness another question arises does the metaphysical change just like the physical ?.Also from an experiential point of view ,I see a beautiful woman after 40 years her body is no longer attractive but her qualities are the same .Another woman faces a trauma and her qualities change ,thus metaphysical can stay or change its form but physical only changes its form.


What's wrong with this argument is that the "many metaphysical realities" is a refutation in itself.

I think many will agree that we try to live our lives by trying to think and make decisions as rationally as possible. This means that when presented with two ideas, we choose the one that is most grounded with supporting evidence or does not lead to any contradictions/absurdities with previous experience. Suppose for example the question "will we wake up tomorrow morning or die in our sleep from a catastrophic collision with an unknown planet heading our way?". We could say both are within the realm of possibility, yet we both wont treat today as our last day on earth. That shows we live by what's most reasonable.

So the issue with this argument, in my opinion, is that science supports the idea that our mind is the result of the neural interactions in the brain, thus if the brain dies, so does our mind cease to exist. But if you believe in the nth metaphysical reality without any supporting evidence, then you might as well believe the nth+1 or the nth+2 etc. Because they all have equal support. This is an absurdity. We don't do this in our everyday life. If an infinite amount of realities are equally probable because they have no support then they are all likely improbable.


The problem is that there is no way to know. You can even assert that the perceived material reality is a mere secondary to a mote beatifull reality still to come. Like Plato saw the dirty, dusty, cracked, and maybe spit upon, reality of a circle form to be a weak reflection of the true mathematic form of the circle existing in an realm of its own. The whole Christian tradition is based on this.

And there is more than one other metaphysical reality (outside of the real of the physical reality). Maybe even infinitely many but that much hasn't been thought about yet.

It makes no sense to speak of their probable existence. For some they exist and for others not. If you think that there is only a physical reality then it makes no sense to say that it is probably not so because you can think of many other (metaphysical) realities. For you there is just the physical reality. For others our existence is just like a temporary speck of dirt in the mire, where one waits for the splendidness to come.


You can understand why the logical positivists wanted to purge metaphysics from thinking. A clever metaphysical argument is tough to unseat because metaphysics, as Descartes believed, is largely the pursuit of first principles, and since they by definition are first principles, and are often arrived at intuitively, it's tough to unseat with principles that seem to not be first-principles.

Here's a secret however. Metaphysical principles are as binding as intuition, and are as provable as assumptions, and they can be attacked just by plumbing the depths of the vocabulary used, a lesson advocated by not only the logical positivists but by the ordinary language philosophers. Let's explore some potential weaknesses in the argument:

  1. Your opponent harnesses the notion of probability, but is it meaningful? If I talk about the probability of a coin toss, then clearly we have a frequentist's notion of probability. But can one even use frequentism as a basis for discussing the probability of afterlives when there is 0 evidence that afterlives even exist, at least within the context of a naturalized epistemology? I would argue it's epistemically meaningless to talk in such a way since we simply have no knowledge.

  2. Your opponent seems to presume that afterlives exist by virtue that the word afterlife can be used. That certainly invokes certain ontological questions, such as, if an afterlife can be imagined therefore it exists, does that logically imply that unicorns exist because they can be imagined?

  3. Is your opponent really practicing rhetoric rather than logic? Is this argument not really a psychological appeal rather than a logical one? It's the staple of just about every denomination of every religion to promise an afterlife or continued existence of some sort. Philosophers often like to claim, like Descartes and the rationalists, that logic and metaphysics is binding, but if one accepts psychologism as a general principle, then are logic and language really divorced from physical reality as some objective truth, or are you really engaged in a language game as Wittgenstein advocated? Isn't the essence of metaphysics the concession of the unavoidable conclusion that we are bound to accept the fallibilistic state of all knowledge, the middle path between radical skepticism that knowledge is impossible, and rationalism, that an awareness of our own thought and being guarantees our own certainty in conclusions?

  4. What exactly are the rules of metaphysical discourse? We use our intuitions, generate claims in the construct of language, and then we use our intuitions to decide how claims relate to each other. Can we even trust such a process, or is affording metaphysics a privleged rank an act of faith, something itself not subject to reason?

Personally, the idea that some clever language builder can construct an argument that is bullet-proof and dictates physical reality is a little suspect to me. As a materialist who defends a representational theory of mind, I hold physical reality and the senses to be a metaphysical necessity to any certainty even about claims regarding this life. To cook up a probabilistic argument that one's fancy can construct an infinite number of fictional descriptions of possible afterlives is no different than counting the number of angels that fit on the head of a pin.

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    Karl Popper enjoyed tying Logical Positivists and Ordinary Linguists up in knots, by pointing out that the assumptions they relied upon were all metaphysical assumptions. For instance the Verification Principle, per its own categories, is a metaphysical claim, unverifiable, and therefore meaningless... ;-> Popper noted that all the most interesting questions in philosophy were metaphysical questions, and wondered why the LPs even became philosophers! Note your own described philosophic categories are ontological and epistemological -- IE are metaphysics assumptions/claims.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 30, 2022 at 23:44
  • Additional critiques: 1a question is valid, but 1b, no knowledge, is false, and 1c, meaningless, is blatantly false. 2 is not his methodology. He is instead presuming basically the modal reality assumption -- all modal states possibly exist, with equal probabilities. It is a bs assumption, but attack that. 3, no, see 2. 4, the rules are -- does this metaphysics assumption set provide a useful framework for improved understanding. See Imre Lakatos' criteria for a progressive Research Programme.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 31, 2022 at 0:02

This question has nothing to do with "metaphysics", it is an effort to establish reality thru reason alone -- in contradiction to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

What the argument does specifically is try to misuse a property of theoretical objects, the property of infinity, and combine that with an inappropriate application of statistics, thru a process of limited imagination and confirmation bias.

Theoretical objects are infinite. One can postulate an infinite number of variations of any hypothesis. Therefore, the sum of one such set of hypotheses, cannot be "greater" than the sum of a different set that proposes a different nature to our world. One cannot count these hypotheses, as they are infinite.

One CAN try to identify ranges of plausible reality space, and then try to show that one range is wider than another, IF one has a probabalistic theory of what the world ought to look like. This is a different process than counting, though it does arrive at a similar probability calculation.

Physicists can do this in some cases, most notably with the application of quantum mechanics to cosmology. We think the values of the constants in the Standard Model of QM were established thru random draw, and we have an idea what the possible range of them were, primarily by comparing them to teach other, to conclude that the plausible universe space that can sustain any kind of life at all for variants of QM, is very tiny. This is because most possible universes disappear almost immediately, or quickly spread out to disperse matter to effective density of zero, or quickly collapse into nothing but inert black holes. This calculation supports that a life compatible universe appears to be WILDLY improbable, and is called the Fine Tuning problem. Trying to provide a possible answer to the Fine Tuning problem is why so many cosmologists postulate a multiverse. QM theory is well enough understood to do these sorts of speculative evaluation of probabilities.

All we have for afterlife are logic categories of ontology, we don't have a logic hypothesis that translates these categories into probability space, nor measurable phenomena that have been at least partially quantized by science theory. The limitations of what your debate partner can imagine are not anything like a probability space, other than a measurement of his inclinations to use his imagination to reinforce confirmation bias.

We can TRY to quantize this, at least partway, just by looking at logic categories. Afterlife requires spiritual dualism to be true, AND that spiritual entities can exist independently. We have four types of speculative ontologies: idealism, spiritism, materialism, neutral monisms, and dualisms and triplisms of the three main types. This is eight logic categories, only 4 of which even possibly allow spirit as a independent ontic state, so can even support an afterlife. As yes/no on independent state is another logic division that removes half of the dualisms and triplisms, assuming they are in the "no" category, so only about 1/4 of this logic space could support an afterlife. Trying to establish probabilities between these logic states is unjustified, one cannot go from logic space to probability space.

So -- contrary to your disputant, the possible logic states that support an afterlife are a minority of possible ontological logic states. But this does not actually say anything about the probability of one of those states actually occurring, as we don't have a probabalistic theory that relates logic states to possible realities, as we sort of do with QM.


The argument is absurd. The person in question presumably has never borne witness to any of those possible metaphysical realities, and thus cannot even know how any of them could be true - you cannot, realistically, have any degree of certainty in some abstract idea like that. The only real conclusion is to conclude that we do not know - at least, within the context of the argument.

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