1

Is there a philosophical framework within which the question of existence in general, and of matter in particular, does not arise?

Being aware of the seemingly hopeless nature of the subject, I'm still asking this without further adornment, as part of an on-going quest for finding new ideas that would help me (and perhaps others like me) in some well-defined, rational way (i.e. not the live-your-life type of shallow psychological workaround) in wasting no more energy in futile speculations on "ultimate origins" and fully focus in the analysis of what is given without asking how that came to be.

Sometimes I'm inclined to think that interest in ultimate origins is an evolutionary peculiarity of the human brain, which could be safely remedied by a smart adoption of the proper general framework. But at other times I think that we simply "have to live with it", and putting too much stress on its importance is a sort of ingratitude towards the life we have been offered to live.

That said, the concept of "actual infinity" seems to open up a promising direction of thought: the human brain can at least vaguely perceive this concept (in the form potential infinity) but never fully experience it, as that would entail its own annihilation.

So is there a way to reinforce this kind of understanding along the lines of some past or contemporary school of philosophy?

8
  • 1
    Husserl's phenomenology explicitly "brackets out" existence questions (the so called epoche) to focus on what is "given". Sellars's subsequent criticisms of the "myth of the given" make it doubtful that any unconditional "given" is available to be analyzed, except in a pragmatic sense. Another option is anti-foundationalism that gives up on ultimate origins/justifications altogether, one version is Quine's naturalized epistemology.
    – Conifold
    Nov 8, 2021 at 12:34
  • 1
    Process philosophy might fit the build to a degree. The emphasis is not so much on static entities, but the flux of things; a continuation of Heraclitus, if you will.
    – J D
    Nov 10, 2021 at 7:09
  • 1
    Surely Stoicism fits?
    – CriglCragl
    Nov 10, 2021 at 13:09
  • 1
    @CriglCragl Sounds interesting but what is the relevant argument? I'm not looking for systems that choose to be psychologically indifferent to otherwise clearly meaningful existential questions, but for ways to render them trivial or meaningless.
    – exp8j
    Nov 10, 2021 at 16:37
  • 2
    @exp8j: I didn't mention Buddhism because there's actually a wide and complex literature in it of issues around existence. But, a crucial shift in emphasis, expressed by en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Poisoned_Arrow + the Acinteyya or Imponderables en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_unanswered_questions Buddhism has a lot in common with the spirit of Stoicism but has more detail. The real purpose of Buddhist philosophy is to be able to put philosophy aside, like Nagarjuna did absoluteirony.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/…
    – CriglCragl
    Nov 10, 2021 at 20:44

3 Answers 3

2

If by the problem of existence you mean specifically the question of "ultimate origins", then there are many philosophical frameworks that don't put emphasis on time and therefore are not concerned with such questions.

If you are specifically searching for a worldview that you want to adopt that would rid you of such thoughts, I'd say that Zen Buddism is the one which is the most developed. Buddha's parable of the poisoned arrow comes into mind:

The Buddha always told his disciples not to waste their time and energy in metaphysical speculation. Whenever he was asked a metaphysical question, he remained silent. Instead, he directed his disciples toward practical efforts. Questioned one day about the problem of the infinity of the world, the Buddha said, "Whether the world is finite or infinite, limited or unlimited, the problem of your liberation remains the same." Another time he said, "Suppose a man is struck by a poisoned arrow and the doctor wishes to take out the arrow immediately. Suppose the man does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it. What would happen? If he were to wait until all these questions have been answered, the man might die first." Life is so short. It must not be spent in endless metaphysical speculation that does not bring us any closer to the truth.

There is also a lot about time in Kant's philosophy. See the antinomy of space and time. In it he examines the following dispute...

  • Thesis: The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as regards space.
  • Anti-thesis:The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space.

...and shows that it is an "antinomy" - an argument where neither side is correct, simply because the question is pointless.

1

In diagnosing at least one major error in the ontological argument for God's existence, Kant noted that the concept of existence does not add anything internal to concepts to which it is applied. (He says the same thing of possibility and necessity, btw.) Although our Fregean inheritance cashes this out as having existential quantifier terms syntactically differentiated from descriptive predicate terms by position in sentences (they preface sentences, like propositional operators, rather than being encoded inside of the sentences directly), one imagines another rejoinder: that, "X exists," is meaningless altogether.

Quine came to such a conclusion about necessity (or modality in general), IIRC. So what happens if we wipe out the question of existence in our theories? God's existence being perhaps the most commonly questioned case of existence, I'll use that as an example. So we would replace, "Does God exist?" by an indefinite horde of questions like, "Did God create the world? Does the divine nature have the ability to unite itself to a created nature so that the divine personality can be attributed to a created form? Will God judge me when I die?", etc. At worst/best, then, "God exists," or, "God doesn't exist," is shorthand for a general yes/no answer to such a horde. (For example, if we say that God didn't create the world, has no Incarnational capacity, is not our judge, never reveals things to us, etc., then God might as well not exist).

1
  • Cheryl Abram 'fired' God, and now you have 'outlawed' God :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 19 at 11:29
0

Is there a philosophical framework within which the question of existence in general, and of matter in particular, does not arise?

Can we address this question by proposing a philosophy of Nothingness? a philosophy that explores states of “non-existence.” Philosophy is often tasked with distinguishing non-existence from existence and the other way around. Atheist argue about the nothingness of god. An empiricist argues that all knowledge comes from experience. What is beyond experience is a kind of nothingness of knowledge. And the big argument between nominalists and realists: the existence or non-existence of universals.

But I hear your question as asking us to think about non-existence as distinct from “existence in general and of matter in particular?”

So a thought on Nothingness.

A brief description of the Big Bang from Wikipedia: The Big Bang is not an explosion of matter moving outward to fill an empty universe. Instead, space itself expands with time everywhere and increases the physical distances between comoving points. In other words, the Big Bang is not an explosion in space, but rather an expansion of space.

So. The Big Bang creates space (and time) as it explosively expands itself. We might say that in the beginning there was a small space occupied by an intensely dense chunk of matter. But: what is beyond this tiny matter-intense space is an absolute nothingness. We know the universe expanded enormously so there must have been an enormous amount of nothingness for the universe to expand into.

For how can I grasp the notion of space expanding and creating space where there was no space? It’s intelligible to me though if I entertain the idea of an absolute Nothingness void of all matter and time and space as well. not something knowable, but conceivable.

3
  • I agree that we can postulate "infinite nothingness" as a conceivable but not knowable origin. And it's not empty wordplay, it's the same as conceiving of actual infinity but experiencing it only as potential infinity.
    – exp8j
    Nov 9, 2021 at 20:23
  • Not "infinite nothingness" but absolute nothingness. The Big Bang creates space and time as it expands. If so, time and space were non-existent prior to the big bang. This absence of time and space must be a state of absolute nothingness because time and space are the necessary conditions for knowing anything. And I cannot conceive or think of such an absolute nothingness. Nov 10, 2021 at 21:18
  • Saying that "time did not exist prior to the big bang" means that the physics of general relativity encounters a singularity at roughly 13.8 billion years ago, so that calculations cannot extend past that point. It does not mean that our logic has been altered so that time prior to the big bang is rendered meaningless. See the answer by John Rennie here
    – exp8j
    Nov 11, 2021 at 6:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.