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Derek Parfit on Why There is Anything

In the London Review of Books the philosopher Derek Parfit asks two questions: “Why is there anything at all rather than nothing?” and “Why is there this?”.  He considers the possibility that there is all this because an uncaused God wanted it, and the possibility that there is this because there are infinite universes each in which a different possibility obtains, and we happen to be in the one where there is all this (the many worlds hypothesis).  He ends this installment of the two part essay on a cliffhanger, considering the view (axiarchics) that what is is explained by what is good.  It would be good if something existed therefore something exists.

I’m puzzled by the idea that the explanatory relation — A explains B — is not explained.  Parfit believes that even if there were nothing there would still be a need for explanation: a reason for there being nothing, and a reason for facts like two being even.  But why?  Why would explanation and the explanatory relation exist even if there were nothing.  Parfit considers the possibility of multiple universes as an explanation of why there is this.  But why does he believe what counts as an explanation is the same across all universes?  What if in some universes what counts as an explanation is different than it is here?  And if not, what explains that?

Parfit might respond: If you ask “why” you are committed to the existence of the explanatory relationship.  If you ask “why is something an answer to a question” by your very asking you show that you accept that there are questions and answers and that some answers are explanatory and some are not.  So the question “why ask why?” is a waste of time.

This is clearly untrue though.  We often ask questions for different reasons and accept different sorts of things as answers depending upon who we are, what we want, what mood we are in, and what’s troubling us.  And although we are committed at times to the practice of seeking explanation and asking questions, we are also committed to other things and other practices: living, eating, making friends, and so on.

Nevertheless it is a good essay and I look forward to the conclusion.

It’s also possible I don’t understand it — if I have mis-stated the rather intricate argument please let me know in the comments.

 

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5 thoughts on “Derek Parfit on Why There is Anything

  1. I am considering that if in a multiverse someone ask Why?-> is a question hologram that it is fixed according the nature that prevails in it; for example; ask why silence exists then nobody answer…because there is one only answer the silence…..

  2. Parfit might respond: If you ask “why” you are committed to the existence of the explanatory relationship. If you ask “why is something an answer to a question” by your very asking you show that you accept that there are questions and answers

    I think it shows the poor internal access to our own brains we have, that it seems like ‘questions and answers’ are somehow ‘a thing’ or a type of physics themselves that somehow still exists without a universe.

    There are other explanations of ‘why’ other than an ‘existence of an explanatory relationship’. When there are other explanations, that doesn’t mean one has to be committed to the existence of his explanatory relationship.

      • In it’s own opinion, eh?

        I mean, if a judge broke a law then got to preside over his own trial, you’d have a problem with that. Kinda biased, right?

        But the brain presiding over it’s own effectiveness? Doesn’t seem biased at all? I wonder how the brain would be judged by other organs?

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