Roy Sorensen argues in his Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities that we know “everything is possible” cannot be true. Because if it were true, then one of the things that was possible would be to make some thing impossible, and somebody would have done that, and therefore it would on longer be true that everything is possible. Or maybe it’s not possible to make something impossible. In that case something is impossible, namely to make something impossible.
And yet it is clearly a good pragmatic maxim to believe that something is possible, because to believe that it impossible will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our own incapacity should not limn our vision of what is possible.
“Everything is possible” is one of those sentences which is difficult to evaluate in a special way. The way that “everything is possible” is hard to evaluate elucidates the kind of thing we are. It shows a certain limitation to our self-understanding. What is possible and what is necessary are conflicting pulls on the sort of thing that we are and as we become aware of the two different pulls on interpreting it — “Everything is possible” is true and “Everything is possible” is false — we realize there are two pulls on us, on the kind of thing we are, and on the kind of thing we become.
Depending upon who we are certain things are possible and certain things are impossible. But could we become something different for which more things are possible that seems to us now as we are to be impossible. Absolutely. And yet if there were nothing that were necessary for us, there would be nothing that made us, us. If I could just as easily become someone who loves everything I hate and hate everything I love, then what am I at that point? Nothing specific, which means nothing at all.
It’s hard to use these words. When we reflect upon them we reflect upon the limits of our own capacity to reflect. In that sense our use of these words — “possible” and “impossible” and “necessary” — are a bit like searchlights, searchlights that simultaneously go out into the world and into ourselves. Like lights they illuminate the direction in which we can change, and shade off into a penumbra of that which is barely us, but could be. Interesting slippery words — possible, necessary, self, good, I, us. They seem to all affect each other and all to be pulled in different directions. It’s hard to keep one’s head when dealing with them. Hard, but possibly not impossible!