Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why the world does not exist (but unicorns do)


I've a review of philosopher Markus Gabriel's excellent Why the World Does Not Exist in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald this weekend.

In 'Real questions about reality', I trace the basic ideas of this exciting work of ontology. A sample:
It is difficult to convey the persuasiveness, scope and charm of Why the World Does Not Exist in a short review. It deserves careful reading - and, in my case, rereading. But Gabriel's main thesis is clear: there is no world. 
Importantly, Gabriel does not mean there is no planet Earth or Milky Way galaxy. He is not an idealist, who denies the material, or a naturalist who denies the autonomy of thinking. Gabriel is against monism, which reduces everything to one thing or principle: a super-object or hyper-idea. He also rejects dualism, which divides the cosmos conveniently into two. "Why two," he quips, "and not 22?" Instead, Gabriel is an ontological pluralist.  
To reach this conclusion, he first argues that nothing exists alone. For something to be, Gabriel argues, it must appear within something else: a domain. Gabriel calls these "fields of sense". And within these, each thing appears selectively. It says little about Gabriel's dog to know that the pet isn't Tuesday. So existence is always relative and contingent. It is also explosive, hence the nod to Derrida. To exist, each field of sense must itself have a field of sense to appear within, and so on. Gestalt turtles, all the way down.
The online edition of the review is entitled 'A pop philosopher on our very being'. For the record, I wouldn't call Gabriel a 'pop philosopher', with the connotations of this label. He's a philosopher who's written a lively, accessible book.

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