POP culture

Premises Of Post-Objectivism


IMMORTALITY WOULD BE WORTH IT

A RESPONSE TO STEPHEN HICKS

Copyright Svein Olav G. Nyberg

Objectivity Vol. 1 no. 6 (1993)

In Objectivity Vol. 1 no. 4 (1992), Stephen Hicks wrote an article, Would Immortality be worth it? I disagree with his conclusion, which I think rests on two false premises. The first is the philosophical impossibility of infinities, and the second is the assumption that boredom will necessarily come - and come as a good reason to end life - after one has lived for sufficiently many years.

INFINITY
Concerning infinity, I recognize that from present science there is much corroborative evidence that the amount of matter is finite. It is not true, however, that philosophy by itself can support the claim that everything is finite.

The argument for the position that existence must be finite, is in essence that what is infinite is thereby indefinite. But this argument always consists in an equivocation on infinite in one respect, versus infinite in all respects. While it is true that what is unbounded in all respects is indefinite, that which is unbounded in just one respect is not. There would be nothing indefinite about a rod that just went on and on in one direction. The argument conflating the infinite and the indefinite is fallacious.

There is one other, more clever, argument that is raised to "prove" the impossibility of the infinite: by reference to concept formation. The argument goes that what exists must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity. The concept existence is formed by omitting measurements of entities, which again must exist in some but may exist in any quantity. Finite quantity is a redundancy. Infinite quantity is a contradiction in terms.

This is clearly a confusion of epistemology and metaphysics; what Harry Binswanger has called the Positivistic fallacy. Though we might only be able to grasp and measure what is finite, that we be able to grasp and measure X should never be taken as a criterion for X existing. To demand that nature should conform to such a degree to human powers of cognition errs also by the fallacy of the primacy of consciousness.

It remains for me to answer the rightfully asked question "What do you mean by infinite then, if you cannot grasp it?" The concept infinite cannot be made as a concept of an actuality. But it can be one of potentiality. Now, to say that there might be an infinite number of entities in the Universe would then be to say that if we started a process of counting the entities in the universe, it would never stop. To claim that the universe is finite, would then be the same as the claim that a process of counting the entities of the universe would by philosophical necessity have to stop somewhere. This, philosophy cannot establish.

IMMORTALITY
The other defective premise was the inevitability of boredom. Why should this be inevitable? Ayn Rand states that emotions are the product of thoughts. To phrase in Rand's terms: Which thoughts give rise to this boredom? As far as I can see, Hicks has not provided such linkage to reality. Rand says life is self-sustained, self-generated action. In contrast, Hicks claims that life is essentially growth. While within a limited context the two are equal, in that flourishing consists in actualizing one's potential, they differ in the estimation of what will happen once the potential is fully realized. While I would rejoice and enjoy my total self-actualization, Hicks seems to find this perfection an unattainable goal which, if reached, should be abandoned in favor of death.

So, since perfection is both desirable and attainable, Hicks' analysis is wrong.


The address of this document:
http://www.ifi.uio.no/~thomas/po/infinity-and-immortality.html

Author's address:
solan@nonserviam.com

Index to the Post-Objectivism web site:
http://www.ifi.uio.no/~thomas/po/articles.html