Does morality exist? What would it even mean to say that morality exists? And if morality does not exist, then how can there be moral progress (e.g., how can we say that it was moral progress to end slavery)? These are meta-ethical questions, in other words, not questions describing or prescribing what one ought to do, but questions concerning whether describing or prescribing what one ought to do is even coherent. I will examine these questions, and more, in this post.
Nihilism, I contend, broadly comes in two different flavors. There is the nihilism of hopelessness and existential dread, whereby the meaninglessness of everything is more contemplative, yet psychologically paralyzing. I tend to fall more into this camp. The second flavor is selfishness and greed. A person concludes there is no meaning to anything, so why not just enjoy myself?
For those who may be paying attention to my recent posts, I am currently reading the collection of essays Metametaphysics, which talks about how metaphysics ought to be done. There is a lot of discussion about whether problems in ontology, such as mereological sums (if there is a tablewise arrangement of atoms, does some “new” object that we call a table come into existence, or is that just a shorthand way we talk about such tablewise arrangements of atoms?), are just semantic. In other words, when I say that a table is nothing more than a tablewise arrangement of atoms, and you say that a table is something above and beyond the tablewise arrangement of atoms, are we simply just using the word “table” in different ways, thus resulting in the differences in how we conceptualize what a table is? Here I am going to discuss (more so than review) the first three essays in this collection.
Metametaphysics, edited by David J. Chalmers, David Manley, and Ryan Wasserman, Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press, 540 pages
Essay 1: “Composition, Colocations, and Metaontology” by Karen Bennett
Essay 2: “Ontological Anti-Realism” by David J. Chalmers
Essay 3: “Carnap and Ontological Pluralism” by Matti Eklund
This Cato Institute 2019 poll has some telling results about the state of people’s feelings toward a meaningful existence. What does it mean to have a meaningful existence? Religion, of course, says that a meaningful existence can only happen through religion. Without religion, people seem to seek meaning through politics. Once politics is seen for what it really is – a soul-shaped cavity overflowing with fetid swamp water where dreams go to die – people are left with nothing but hollow materialistic consumerism. When that fails to satisfy the need for purpose, the meaning-wheel comes full circle and people seek a metaphysics to explain how the world works. The most popular of which currently is identity politics.
What is it that makes an organization what it is? Is it the sum of the constituent people? An idea? The problem of sports organizations is that they don’t have anything that persists through time – the 1985 Chicago Bears is not the same thing as the 2019 Chicago Bears.
Voltaire once said that “if God didn’t exist we would have to invent him.” Our imaginations are, of course, limited by our evolutionary past. To us, God has to be human-like. God must be benevolent, meaning it’s actions must seek to benefit humans. Why wouldn’t we invent a God like that? We are human-centered by our very nature. We feel that we deserve our self-designated special place in the universe.
I recently watched an episode of the Mind Field series by Vsauce titled “Should I Die?” In it, the host Michael Stevens talks to people from a cryonics firm and a mortician. He ultimately decides that he wants to die. The reasoning seems to be that our finite existence is what gives meaning to our lives. Death, in other words, has a meaning. But what is that meaning?