This blog post is inspired by this article: http://io9.com/8-great-philosophical-questions-that-well-never-solve-1570833699
The writer says that these questions are unsolved, but that’s not really true. Philosophers have always come up with solutions to such questions. It’s not that there are no solutions presently available to us. The real issue here is that the metaphysical world is a world which we cannot perceive at all, by its very definition. If you can’t even perceive something, the best you can do is to come up with logically consistent frameworks that describe possible ways of thinking about the very thing which you cannot perceive. In other words, the best we can do is to start with some subjective assumptions, and come up with a logically consistent view of the metaphysical world based on those assumptions. It is ultimately a situation exemplified by the expression “your guess is as good as mine”.
One way of looking at the issue is to realise this: the answer is that there is no unique solution, i.e. there are infinitely many solutions, because there are infinitely many different guesses that can be made. Another way is to say that there are no “true”, objective solutions. Saying that these are “mysteries” that we will probably never resolve is not really saying much at all, because obviously everyone is free to make their own guesses to suit their own purposes.
Having said that, let me offer here my own preferred solutions (or, in some cases, meta-solutions) to these “8 great philosophical questions”.
1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
If something exists, it just does. There is no “why”. If nothing exists, that’s just the way things are. Again, there is no “why”. In this sense, the question “why is there” is more precisely phrased as “why would there exist”. If you ask, why would there exist a person like me, we could easily look for something that exists logically prior to me, i.e. my parents. But if you ask the question of why would there exist “anything”, or equivalently, why would there exist “everything”, then there is nothing to look for outside that “everything”. The philosophical term for “everything” is “the Universe”. In that sense, when you already define “the Universe” that way, you cannot meaningfully ask what exists outside “the Universe” that is logically prior to the Universe’s existence, because you already assumed that “the Universe” means “everything”. To look for something that exists outside of “everything” is to be going against the very definition of “everything”. Having understood the above, we can conclude that the question “why would there exist everything” is absurd (i.e. logically inconsistent), and is therefore inherently unanswerable. An absurd question cannot have any non-absurd solutions.
However, if you instead ask the question of “why SHOULD there exist something rather than nothing”, then you enter the realm of metaphysics, where all kinds of guesses are possible. One of the common guesses people have developed is a concept of a God that transcends the known universe, who simply exists because God is perfectly good, and being perfectly good means he must exist. But this is circular reasoning, which doesn’t really prove/explain anything. Why does God exist? Because God is perfectly good. Why is God perfectly good? Because he just is …
2. Is our universe real?
As a conscious human being, I am able to perceive things, whether it be thoughts, emotions, sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, etc. But when you ask the question of whether the universe is real, you are effectively asking whether the universe really exists. Having explained how the “universe” is defined as “everything that there is”, or equivalently, “everything that exists”, the question effectively becomes “does the universe that really exists really exist?”, the answer to which is trivially, “yes!”.
However, if the question is taken to mean “do our perceptions describe the real universe accurately?”—after all, the question takes the form of “is OUR universe real?”, instead of “is THE universe real?”—then the correct answer to that question is “it is impossible to know”. Yes, we have our perceptions, but we cannot transcend our perceptions, in the sense that we cannot perceive anything else other than what we can perceive. We can only meaningfully “know” what we can “perceive”. Knowledge comprises belief paired with perception, and perception is what allows us to assign a degree of true-ness to a belief. In other words, all we are able to say is that “we know that we perceive simply because we perceive”. Equivalently, as Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum). If “OUR universe” is already defined as “everything that we can possibly perceive”, then the question of whether we can perceive something more than “everything that we can possibly perceive” has the trivially correct answer of “no”.
3. Do we have free will?
Philosophers have traditionally been perplexed by the problem of “necessary causation”, i.e. determinism, in trying to answer this question. But the solution is that causation is necessary for us to have any meaningful degree of free will. Without causation, free will is not even possible. I have explained this concept in detail here: https://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/the-solution-to-free-will-is-determinism/
4. Does God exist?
Really, this question is perhaps one of the least useful questions in this list of 8 questions, because God is itself a concept that is not properly defined. You can’t meaningfully question the existence of something that is not even meaningfully defined.
However, let’s go with one popular definition, which says that God is a being who transcends our universe. In that sense, if God necessarily transcends our perceivable universe, then we cannot meaningfully know whether God exists because we cannot meaningfully know what we cannot perceive. We can only blindly guess, and therefore “your guess is as good as mine”.
5. Is there life after death?
This question is more accurately expressed as “is there life beyond death?”, because if someone you know in real life dies and stays dead, then somehow comes back to life, that sort of “life after death” is not what we’re really looking for. What we’re really interested in is whether there is a sort of existence beyond the sort of physical existence that we “live” in. But then, this sort of existence beyond our physical, perceivable world is necessarily defined as a sort of existence that is imperceptible to us. Therefore, we cannot have any definite answer to this question. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
6. Can you really experience anything objectively?
The answer to this question is actually equivalent to that of question 2 above. We can only perceive THE world through OUR OWN consciousness, so obviously you cannot really know if your own perceptions accurately conform to THE real world. Here’s my answer to the related question of whether we can know anything objectively: https://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/ultimate-objectivity-does-not-exist-whether-we-like-it-or-not-subjective-perspectives-are-all-we-really-have/
7. What is the best moral system?
The answer to this question is equivalent to that of questions 2 and 6 above. Without ultimate objectivity, there is no objective way of deciding what the best moral system is. So, what you deem as the best moral system necessarily depends on what subjective assumptions you use to judge / decide morality.
8. What are numbers?
Really, questions in this form are simply questions of definition. How you define it depends on what kind of explanation you’re looking for.
Anyway, going with the more meaningful question of “how do numbers exist?”, the answer is really quite simple. Numbers exist in the realm of consciousness, i.e. in our human minds as thoughts. They are primarily abstract concepts that human minds have conceived. That’s about it. Anything more is really up to the individual to define. Even my answer here is just my own definition for it, and everyone is free to have their own definitions to suit their own purposes.
Finally, here’s a short summary that describes one of the approaches involved in “solving” these questions:
There is a distinction to be made between thoughts (i.e. concepts) and experiences (i.e. perceptions). Concepts that are based on perceptions (i.e. thoughts that are based on experiences) are called percepts. Percepts are a subset of Concepts. Something whose existence is knowable must be capable of producing percepts in the human mind. Thus, whether something’s existence can be known, depends on how you define what is both conceivable and perceivable (i.e. what is both thinkable and experienceable), and what is merely conceivable but not perceivable. Also, if something is not conceivable, then it is not knowable even if it were somehow perceivable, because you can’t possibly know something if you can’t even think about it, in spite of having experienced it.
Here’s a definition of “percept” (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/percept):
2015_09_18_Edit: Just came across this article that touches on many similar / related ideas. Good read. http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/everything-and-nothing