Precis of the Wholeness of the World
A new way of doing philosophy (and science). Implausible though it may sound at this late date, after more than 2 millennia of trying, there is a new way of doing philosophy. And it is one that works. Instead of leading to skepticism, it justifies a more fundamental knowledge. But it is equally a new way of doing science, and this unification of philosophy and science has profound implications. “The Wholeness of the World” is explained at http://www.tWoW.net.
Ontological philosophy. Philosophy is different from ordinary ways of knowing. It aspires to a kind of knowledge that is prior to ordinary ways of knowing, such as science and practical reasoning. The heart of philosophy is foundationalism, because a special foundation is required in order to defend a more fundamental kind of knowledge. A new kind of “first philosophy” is what is presented at tWoW.net.
In the past, philosophers have used epistemological foundations. They used reflection on how we know to arrive at a theory about the nature of knowledge (e.g., the intuition of forms, certainty about ideas in the mind, and the language-users’ knowledge of language). But such attempts to justify a more fundamental kind of knowledge have failed to garner general acceptance. Indeed, the failure of traditional philosophy is one of the few points on which philosophers now agree, making skepticism and relativism the winners.
It is not hard, therefore, to see why we might wish there were a new way of doing philosophy. And there is. Instead of epistemology, the foundation for a more fundamental knowledge can be empirical ontology. This was tried by the Pre-Socratics, but it could not work without modern science and has been forgotten.
By “ontology,” we mean a theory about the basic substances that constitute the world, where “substances” are self-subsistent entities that never come into existence and never go out of existence. The empirical method requires us to accept whichever ontology is the best ontological explanation of the world, where the best ontology is the one that postulates the simplest set of basic substances that can explain everything in the world. Suppose there were an ontology that is demonstrably better than any alternative, including those offered by physics. And suppose that it entailed further propositions about the world that were not already recognized as true. Such an ontology would be a foundation for philosophy, because what else it implied would be ontologically necessary. Its implications would be prior to what is known by ordinary means, because they could be denied only by giving up the best ontological explanation of the world.
As it happens, there is such an ontology. It is “spatiomaterialism,” the theory that nature is constituted by space as well as matter enduring through time as substances. This may be what the ancient atomists were defending, but in any case, it is a better ontological explanation of the natural world than any alternative currently being considered by naturalists. And it has many implications not currently recognized as true, much less as necessary. It does what philosophy has always aspired to do.
The main reason that naturalists do not already accept spatiomaterialism is that they do not choose which ontology to believe by inferring to the best ontological-cause explanation of the world. Instead, they believe in empirical science, which infers to the best efficient-cause explanations of what happens, and they accept whatever ontology is required for scientific theories to be true. The Einsteinian overthrow of the Newtonian belief in absolute space and time has led naturalists to assume that space cannot be a substance enduring through time. But, as tWoW.net shows, it is possible to explain the truth of both the special and the general theories of relativity on the assumption that space endures through time (and is, therefore, absolute). That is clearly a better ontological explanation of the world than ontologies derived from realism about theories in physics, for it is simpler and less puzzling than the belief that spacetime is what contains all the matter in the world. Spatiomaterialism is also better than forms of materialism that take it for granted that bits of matter have spatial relations and that spatial relations can change over time, for it explains why they have spatial relations and how change is possible. And since spatiomaterialism can explain the truth of all the other basic laws of physics, science offers no reason to doubt that it is true.
Ontological science. Empirical ontology affords, therefore, a way of doing philosophy that is not currently being considered. It is equally, however, a new way of doing science, because it is equivalent to recognizing ontology as a more basic branch of natural science than physics. That leaves science no less empirical, since ontology also uses the empirical method. Hence, empirical ontology unites philosophy and science. While philosophy sees empirical ontology as a foundation for defending ontologically necessary truths about the world, science sees it as a way of explaining the truth of theories in physics. Indeed, the resulting “ontological science” is one in which the theories of all the less general branches of natural science (and social science) can be reduced to the most basic branch. But ontological philosophy also solves the problems that have humbled traditional philosophy and completes the task of philosophy.
A new way of presenting philosophical arguments. Not only is this a new argument, but this new argument is presented in a new way, by taking a web-based approach. The whole argument is represented at tWoW.net by a single diagram in which you can call up labels for each part by moving your mouse over them. Clicks on those parts lead to more detailed, labeled sub-diagrams of the same kind and, ultimately, to a standard linear text. The diagrams make it possible to grasp the argument as a whole from the beginning, so that you can investigate its adequacy by focusing on those parts of the text that seem most crucial to you. (The text to which you are led by way of the diagrams can easily be printed out for more comfortable reading. Just click in the text frame in the relevant web page and then click “print.”)
the Wholeness of the World. The main reason for calling tWoW.net “the Wholeness of the World” is that spatiomaterialism explains everything in the world. It must, as an ontological theory, be able to account for everything in the world in the sense of showing its possibility. But it can also justify new beliefs about the world by showing them to be ontologically necessary. Ontological philosophy shows that in a spatiomaterial world like ours, where the laws of physics are true, almost all the kinds of things found in the world have essential natures, including not only plants and animals, but also rational beings, like us, who come to know it. These ontologically necessary truths can explain all the phenomena that seem to lie beyond the limits of science and have cast doubt on naturalism itself, including why it is like something to be subjects like us (or consciousness), how there is a real difference between good and bad (or goodness), and even how there can be something worthy of worship in a strictly natural world (or holiness). No one who follows the argument to the end will doubt that this explanation is complete. It is, in other words, a God’s Eye View of the World, one that earns its claim to the certainty expected of an Absolute Truth by the completeness of its ontological explanation of the world, rather than self evidence.
Foundation. The first step of the two-step argument at tWoW.net justifies spatiomaterialism as a foundation for philosophy (and the most basic theory of science) by showing how it is required by three assumptions:
Ø that everything that exists is in space and time (or naturalism),
Ø that ontology is a distinct kind of explanation from the efficient-cause explanations of science (or explanatory ontology), and
Ø that we should believe whichever theory is the best explanation of what we find in nature (or the empirical method).
Necessary Truths. The second step of this philosophical argument demonstrates ontologically necessary truths by showing what must hold in a spatiomaterial world like ours (where matter and space have natures that explain why the basic laws of physics are true). They are ontologically necessary in the sense that they cannot be denied without giving up the best ontological explanation of our world. They include truths about what is and what ought to be. The former follow from its explanation of how space and matter constitute properties, relations and change:
Ø Explaining the nature of properties ontologically solves the so-called “hard problem” about the nature of consciousness, for it explains why there are phenomenal properties as well as physical properties. (If properties are aspects of substances, then bits of matter must have intrinsic properties as well as extrinsic properties.)
Ø The spatiomaterialist explanation of the nature of relations shows how mathematics is true, why math is ontologically necessary, and what makes math seem to be certain. (Recognizing space as a substance makes it possible to explain all the ways in which set theory can be interpreted as corresponding to the natural world, showing how they are all true.)
Ø Its explanation of the nature of change solves Hume’s problem of induction by explaining change as an aspect of substances enduring through time. And recognizing space as one of the substances enduring through time makes it possible to show the ontological necessity of “global regularities,” including the conservation of matter, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the principles of mechanics, and evolution.
Evolution. Space is an ontological cause of evolutionary change in two ways, and together, they imply that the overall course of evolution is an inevitable series of stages during each of which there is a gradual evolutionary change in the direction of maximum power.
Ø During each stage, space causes some organism (or biological machine) to become gradually as powerful as possible in controlling conditions affecting its reproduction both individually and collectively. (Space makes them impose natural selection on themselves: such biological machines reproduce, as well as control relevant conditions, and their own population growth makes natural selection inevitable).
Ø Space also causes one stage to lead to another, because, once such biological machines approach maximum power for their kind, space enables them to be organized as so many different parts of a more complex biological machine. Then, their reproduction as a whole causes them to become maximally powerful in the same way, that is, by how their own population growth makes natural selection inevitable.
Because evolution is an ontologically necessary global regularity in a spatiomaterial world like ours, the organisms that evolve at each stage are natural kinds with essential natures. As the organisms that evolve at one of those stages, rational beings are necessary beings in a spatiomaterial world like ours. And since reason is explained as the outcome of a series of evolutionary stages, the necessary truths of ontological philosophy include a theory about how the brain works, solving problems in neurophysiology, as well as a theory about language, which solves problems in social science. Thus, ontological philosophy explains the nature of mind, imagination, language, reason, and even the spiritual nature of rational beings.
Goodness. Regarding the truths about what ought to exist, tWoW.net shows how matter and space constitute rational beings with an individual self interest, a moral interest (deriving from their spiritual self interest), and a religious (self) interest. Besides showing what is good for rational beings, ontological philosophy explains why the good is good, so that rational beings will know that there can be no reason not to choose it. This will lead rational beings to recognize that they have a religious interest that requires them to do what is good for the world as a whole. Thus, since their existence is inevitable, the world itself is not only the source of purpose in the world, but also acts as a perfect rational person within the world. That means that the world is a perfect being in the most demanding sense of traditional theism, and so the world itself can be seen as God.
CHALLENGE: Can you show that ontological philosophy does not work? The conclusions summarized here are defended in detail at http://www.tWoW.net. You cannot simply dismiss this argument without explaining why it doesn’t work and still call yourself a philosopher. To do so would be to give up the rational pursuit of truth in favor of relativism. If you have an objection to ontological philosophy, bring it to the webmaster@tWoW.net or to the Listserv discussion onto-phil@tWoW.net, where either we will show why it is not well founded or else show how it can be accommodated by a modification that does not alter this basic way of doing philosophy or what it leads to in the end. (You can join the discussion by sending an email to onto-phil-request@tWoW.net with the text in its body: subscribe.)