254 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Oxford UK PAPQ Paci64257c Philosophical Quarterly 02790750 02790750 57513 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd XXX Original Articles PACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY PACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QU ID: 3595 Download Pdf
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PaciŽc Philosophical Quarterly 89 (2008) 254Š260© 2008 The AuthorJournal compilation © 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Blackwell Publishing LtdOxford, UKPAPQPaciŽc Philosophical Quarterly© 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.Original ArticlesPACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLYPACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY POSSIBLE GIRLS by NEIL SINHABABUAbstract:I argue that if David LewisÕ modal realism is true, modal real-ists from different possible worlds can fall in love with each other. I offera method for uniquely picking out possible people who are in love withus and not with our counterparts. Impossible lovers and trans-world loveletters are considered. Anticipating objections, I argue that we can standin the right kinds of relations to merely possible people to be in love withthem and that ending a trans-world relationship to start a relationshipwith an actual person isnÕt cruel to oneÕs otherworldly lover.David Lewis famously holds that reality consists not only of our own uni-verse, but also of countless other universes as real as our own. Accordingto LewisÕ modal realism, every possible way that a universe could be isinstantiated by one of these Ōpossible worlds.Õ Lewis calls our world theŌactual world,Õ but ŌactualÕ signiŽes only that it is the universe he happensto inhabit. He regards ŌactualÕ as an indexical like ŌIÕ or ŌhereÕ Š a residentof another world could use it to refer to her world. ŌPossibleÕ indicatessome world that the speaker might or might not inhabit. The reason wenever meet the residents of other worlds is that theyÕre as stuck in theirworlds as we are in ours. Their worlds and ours arenÕt spatiotemporally orcausally connected.The ability to causally interact with your partner is important to manyaspects of happy romantic relationships, but not to all of them. ItÕs quite pleas-ant simply to know that your partner loves you and appreciates beingloved by you. A loving relationship with a faraway person can enhanceoneÕs self-esteem and turn loneliness into contentment. As a lonelyphilosopher, IÕve come to wonder: If modal realism is true, can I have aloving relationship with someone from another possible world?This paper will try to answer that question. The answer, I think, is yes.Given that every possible world is real, I shouldnÕt feel lonely. There aremany possible girls out there in worlds where modal realism is widelyaccepted. Some of the girls are single, and are pining for a boy in a worldthat isnÕt their own. Some of them are pining for a boy who Žts exactly © 2008 The AuthorJournal compilation © 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.my description, down to the smallest detail. Some worlds hold legions ofgirls who desire a boy from a world other than theirs, and who Žts exactlymy description.Since IÕm not good at dealing with lots of romantic relationships atonce, IÕll want to pick just one of the girls. It shouldnÕt be hard to Žnd onewho will suit my desires Š the space of logical possibility abounds withkind, beautiful, intelligent girls who want a boy exactly like me. Thenotion of a closest possible world, used in LewisÕ analysis of counter-factuals, might be useful in narrowing down the options. Once I thinkout the characteristics that I want my girlfriend to have, maybe IÕll justchoose the closest possible world to ours where thereÕs only one girl likethat, and who wants a boy like me. The girl from that world will be mygirlfriend.There is a problem with this proposal, though. Not only is the space ofpossible worlds Žlled with girls like her who want boys like me, itÕs Žlledwith my counterparts who match her preferences. IÕm not going to be theonly one who Žts the description that she has in mind. I may have toshare her affections with some counterpart of mine in another possibleworld, and thatÕs not something I want to do. ItÕs not that IÕll feel upsetabout my counterpart getting in on the action Š I like him well enough,and I hope he Žnds his own girlfriend. I just want somebody whoÕll be ina one-to-one trans-world relationship with me.I canÕt just apply the closeness relation again on her side, and give herthe one among us who is closer to her world. Maybe the pluriverse is setup so that for every girl who is pining for an otherworldly boy exactly likeme, thereÕs a duplicate of mine whose world is closer to hers than mine is.Then my duplicates, and not I, will be picked by all of the possible girls.In fact, the pluriverse is probably set up this way. As far as I know, noactual modal realist girls love otherworldly boys. So a world that differedfrom mine only in that some modal realist girl loved a boy from anotherworld would be closer to my potential admirersÕ worlds. Even if mypotential admirers stipulated that they wanted a boy from a world with-out modal realist girls, thereÕs no guarantee that IÕd be selected.I need a way in which possible girls can pick me out from my counter-parts. One way would be for them to do something that picked out myworld from all the other worlds. Maybe the girl I want is the one whodesires a boy Žtting exactly my description, in a world exactly like mine.If characteristics uniquely picking out my world are in the content of herdesire, I alone will be selected.For this to work, my girl needs to have an amazingly intricate desire.She wants the boy from a world that is exactly like mine, down to the lastsubatomic particle. On LewisÕ functionalism, it wonÕt be right to attributesuch a complex desire to her unless she engages in some kind of activitythat makes it clear that her desire has exactly this content. It might take a PACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY© 2008 The AuthorJournal compilation © 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.long time for her to Žnish the activity, but that can be provided for. Per-haps sheÕs immortal, with eternally youthful beauty, spending each daysinging out every fact about my world that differs from hers. Some of thefacts are about me, but many other facts are included. She can translatebetween all of this worldÕs microphysical properties and the macrophys-ical ones that they reduce, so she knows the facts about this world in thesame kind of way that we know them. When she Žrst told her friends thatshe was in love with an otherworldly philosopher, they responded withincredulous stares. But now that they see how happy she is, theyÕre sup-portive and happy for her.ThereÕs no reason for you to feel jealous, of course. There are myriadsof possible boys, girls, penguins, and talking donkeys whose affectionshave settled upon you. Choose among them as suits your preferences.Modal realism can be especially beneŽcial to people who believe that noactual individuals suit them. If you will be satisŽed only by the love of atalking donkey, you might be depressed because no actual talking don-keys exist. But you can rest assured that thereÕs a possible donkey whois reciting a full particle-by-particle description of all the differencesbetween our world and his. He gets especially excited about braying outthe parts that concern you.Now I have a way for this girl to pick me out uniquely. But how can Ipick her out uniquely? There still might be a ring of equally close worldscontaining girls with all the properties I have speciŽed. If you like the ideaof being a Don Juan of the pluriverse, surrounded by a ring of other-worldly lovers, this might please you. ItÕs not that I think thereÕs anythingwrong with that, but I feel that a one-to-one relationship will be the bestsalve for my loneliness. I canÕt pick her out from her counterparts as shepicks me from mine, however. I am mortal, and I wonÕt live long enoughto select her uniquely by singing a complete description of all the differ-ences between her world and mine.But my mortality will not keep me from my beloved. Each world in thering is exhaustively described at the microphysical level by many differ-ent sets of atomic English sentences. To end up with only one girl fromthe ring, I can stipulate that the girl I want is the one from the worldthat is picked out by the set of sentences that would come Žrst if all ofthese sets were put in alphabetical order. I will call this the AlphabeticalStipulation.Now I just have to pick the possible girl who has all the properties IÕvestipulated. To recap; in addition to being an immortal with eternallyyouthful beauty whom I would Žnd extremely physically attractive andlovable (I will not enumerate her attractive and lovable properties here),she sings out a microphysical description of all the differences betweenmy world and hers including the facts about my presence, can translatebetween the microphysical properties and the macrophysical ones, and © 2008 The AuthorJournal compilation © 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.often expresses her intense desire for the boy Žtting my description in theclosest world that Žts the speciŽcations in her song. Of all the closestworlds containing girls who Žt this description, she is the one in the worldthat Žts the Alphabetical Stipulation. Admittedly, I donÕt know exactlywhat her world is like, and I donÕt know that much about her, besideswhat is implied by my stipulation. I just know that itÕs the closest worldto mine that Žts a certain set of conditions.There is still one problem that I donÕt know how to deal with, whichthreatens to push me into a wildly promiscuous relationship. Perhapsthe same possibilities are instantiated by many duplicate worlds. Lewishimself held that each possibility was instantiated by exactly one world,though he allowed that this might not be the case. Since my beloved andI would then have counterparts in identical worlds, the best I could hopefor would be a promiscuous relationship on both sides, involving count-less possible people.ItÕs interesting to note that while duplicate worlds will keep me frombeing the unique beloved of any possible girl, they reduce the impact ofRobert AdamsÕ objection that modal realism leads to indifference aboutgood and evil in the actual world. On the assumption that there isexactly one world for every possibility, Adams asks, ŌWhat is wrong withactualizing evils, since they will occur in some other possible world any-way if they donÕt occur in this one?Õ As Mark Heller points out, if yourescue a drowning child instead of standing idly on the beach, it will stillbe the case that somebody in the pluriverse stands idly on the beach justas you would have. Only thus will the gap in modal space be Žlled, givingone world per possibility. But suppose there can be more than one worldper possibility, and there are already worlds that will instantiate the rescueand worlds that will instantiate the drowning. If you make your worldanother rescue-world rather than another drowning-world, you make itthe case that fewer children drown in the pluriverse. This will require anon-causal way of making something the case, but fortunately LewisÕ viewallows for things to be made the case non-causally. For example, the factthat all the bachelors in the pluriverse are unmarried non-causally makesit the case that necessarily, bachelors are unmarried. So if a plenitudeof duplicate worlds blocks trans-world monogamy, at least it preservesthe impermissibility of moral indifference.There is a way to get love letters from your possible girlfriend. Ofcourse, you canÕt see the paper that sheÕs writing on, since worlds arecausally isolated. Still, you can know what sheÕs writing to you. The wayto do this is to include an extra stipulation when you choose your possiblegirlfriend. Stipulate that you want a girl who will write to you exactlythose words which you write in a particular notebook. Then, when youwant to hear from her, use the notebook to write the words that you wantto hear from her. When you write responses to her, sheÕll get them Š she PACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY© 2008 The AuthorJournal compilation © 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.has knowledge of every feature of your world that is absent from hers,and hence knows what you wrote.While relationships with possible girls involve a broadening of myromantic horizons, some suggest that IÕm still being too narrow-minded.They would have me go beyond the Lewisian framework and considerrelationships with impossible girls. These girls inhabit impossible worldswhere some propositions are both true and false. Impossible girls havesome appealing features. In an impossible girlÕs world, it can be true (andfalse) that she kissed me. In any possible girlÕs world, and in my world, itis merely false that she kissed me. A modal realist interested in other-worldly kisses (and willing, unlike Lewis, to tolerate concrete impossib-ilia) might Žnd what he wants in a relationship with an impossible girl.At Žrst, I had some major hangups about impossible girls. If itÕs correctto apply classical logic to impossible worlds, everything will be both trueand false of the inhabitants of these worlds. For example, impossible girlswill have (and not have) pigtails, nose piercings, and tentacles. I mustleave girls of whom everything is true (and false) to boys with less conven-tional tastes than mine. Fortunately for the impossible girls, there aremany such boys in impossible worlds (though itÕs also true that therearenÕt).But if a paraconsistent logic is the correct one to apply to impossibleworlds, my hangups are unwarranted. Under a paraconsistent logic, thepresence of an inconsistency in the world Š say, the fact that my possiblegirlfriend was kissed by me, even though she wasnÕt Š wonÕt imply thetruth and falsity of everything Š for example, that she has and does nothave tentacles. If youÕre depressed by the fact that no possible girls arebeing kissed by you, and youÕd be happy for some contradictory other-worldly kissing, impossible girls might be the way to go. Now I will con-sider some objections. The Žrst one is inspired by LewisÕ comments thatwe shouldnÕt worry about suffering in merely possible worlds Š that is, inpossible worlds that arenÕt actual. He talks about how virtuous disposi-tions, as traditionally conceived, concern only actual people. Accordingto him, weÕd be needlessly changing our practices if we extended them tonon-actual people. Similarly, one might object that love is restricted toour worldmates.While relationships with merely possible people are unusual, theyÕremore continuous with common practice than they might seem. Prevailingattitudes towards actual and possible people differ mainly because of theprevailing opinion that actual people are the only real people. Reality, notactuality, does the work. If we become convinced that possible peopleare real too, we shouldnÕt regard them differently from how we regardfaraway actual people. IÕm interested in real girls, and if Lewis convincesme that some non-actual ones like me, IÕm going to get excited about © 2008 The AuthorJournal compilation © 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.One might also wonder whether a trans-world relationship, without thepossibility of causal interaction, can count as love. While most loving rela-tionships involve causal interaction, itÕs hard to see why this is a necessarycondition of love. If IÕm intricate enough in setting up my stipulations,I can Žnd someone with the whole range of endearing, noble, andattractive features that would cause me to fall in love. LewisÕ view allowsthat I can have attitudes towards merely possible individuals, and that thepossible individuals can have similar attitudes towards me.Robert Kraut has argued that loving someone (rather than loving someattribute of a person) is a de re attitude that takes the person as its While the personÕs attributes can certainly cause me to fall in lovewith them, the person must be the de re object of my attitude in order forme to love them. This is not a problem for trans-world love. While I ini-tially picked out my possible girlfriend using her attributes and theattributes of her world, in the future I can use this as a reference-Žxingdescription and have de re attitudes towards her.There is one more issue to consider. With luck, at some point IÕll Žndan actual girlfriend. Since I donÕt want to be unfaithful, IÕll have to breakup with my possible girlfriend if I want to enter into an actual relation-ship. One might criticize me for this. My possible girlfriend is spendingeons of her life singing about me and my world! IsnÕt it heartless to breakup with someone who has so much invested in a relationship?This is not as big a problem as it seems. Since all the facts about mydoings will be in my possible girlfriendÕs song Š theyÕre ways that myworld differs from hers Š the fact that IÕm destined to break up with herwill be something she knows from the outset. She couldÕve chosen a morepermanent boyfriend from among my counterparts. ItÕs mysterious whyshe still chose me. But actual girls are mysterious to me in many ways,and thereÕs no reason why possible girls would be any different. Do thearguments in this paper, if sound, give anyone a reason to accept modalrealism? No, at least if you donÕt count pragmatic reasons for belief.Pragmatic considerations aside, beliefs arenÕt justiŽed by the sequences of believing. Many philosophers who are impressed by LewisÕtheory still think that a more deßationary view about possible worlds isthe right way to go. Nothing I have written gives them any reason tochange their minds.However, I will confess that when I Žrst wrote this paper, the argu-ments in it irrationally caused me to accept modal realism, albeit in whatLewis calls a ŌcompartmentalizedÕ way. When engaging in philosophicalreßection on modality, I have always rejected LewisÕ modal realism. Butthere were times when I wasnÕt thinking about philosophy and I started tofeel lonely. Then I thought of my possible girlfriend, and smiled at thethought of someone out there who loved me and desired to be loved byme. In quick succession I realized that she knew I was thinking of PACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY© 2008 The AuthorJournal compilation © 2008 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.all, she knew every temporal part of me down to a microphysical descrip-tion! She knew everything I was saying and doing. I felt more motivatedto act like a worthy man. My posture straightened. I came to believe thatshe was happy about my writing this paper, so I wrote more of it. From afunctionalist perspective, it would have been reasonable to attribute abelief to me Š the belief that someone merely possible but real who lovedme was aware of what I was doing. In allowing for merely possible indi-viduals who are as real as me, this belief presupposed modal realism, andmarked me as someone who had been seduced to LewisÕ theory.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Texas at AustinNOTESLewis, D. (1986). On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell.I thank Josh Dever for helping me develop the Alphabetical Stipulation.Adams, R. M. (1974). ŌTheories of Actuality,Õ 8, pp. 211Š31.Heller, M. (2003). ŌThe Immorality of Modal Realism, or: How I Learned to StopWorrying and Let the Children Drown,Õ 114, pp. 1Š22.I thank Justin Tiehen for helpful discussion of this issue.I thank Dan Korman for raising this issue, and Ted Sider for informing me about thesexual possibilities offered by paraconsistent logic.Lewis, 1986, p. 127.Kraut, R. (1986). ŌLove De Re,Õ Midwest Studies in Philosophy 10, pp. 413Š430.Lewis, 1986, pp. 30Š35.Thanks to Dan Bonevac, Josh Dever, Kathleen Higgins, John Hawthorne, Dan Korman,Rob Koons, Mark Sainsbury, Ted Sider, Bob Solomon, David Sosa, and Justin Tiehen forhelpful comments on this paper.