Historical sources of the idea of the Void, the principle of variety and related concerns

Anil Mitra, © May 2010, © Latest Revision February 17, 2015


The historical sources of the idea and significance of the Void are manifold and include modern science; the thought of Leibniz, Hume, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger—refer to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Nothingness for recent reflection on the Void

Heidegger held the problem of why there is being—the world—rather than nothing to be the ‘fundamental problem of metaphysics (the nothingness of Sartre is psychological rather than actual)

Wittgenstein, Hume and Leibniz implicitly skirt the idea of the void in their suggestions that the only impossibilities are logical. Leibniz says this explicitly; Hume and Wittgenstein say something equivalent—i.e., ‘from the truth of one atomic proposition the truth of another does not follow.’ Hume’s form omitted the word ‘atomic’

There are species of ‘voidism’ in Judaic, Christian (e.g., Aquinas,) Islamic, Buddhist and Indian thought

The metaphysics, which, in my thought as the Universal metaphysics or the one metaphysics, has been brought to an ultimate level, has been also been glimpsed in the history of thought e.g. by Leibniz, Hume and Wittgenstein who saw some aspect of it but provided neither demonstration nor systematic development of a whole system nor development of a system of implications (while there is some systematic development in the recent literature, there is no demonstration of the existence of the Void and there is nothing like the development in this narrative of the coherent and one and only metaphysics, its elaboration and the subsumption of the entire range of knowledge, academic disciplines, and human activity under its framework)

Aspects of the system of metaphysics here demonstrated and elaborated have been imagined in Indian Philosophy, especially in Vedanta. It is noteworthy that the demonstration has encouraged elaboration in a number of ways: (1) The demonstration develops confidence for application and its method provides tools for application (2) Because the system developed here involves the foundation of thought and knowing, application occurs to the foundation. The metaphysics provides foundation for knowledge of the Universe-as-it-is that is empirical, definite (not relative,) and of finite but ultimate depth (3) Naturally not all is known of the Universe. The metaphysics is ultimate in breadth in being implicitly generative of all being and in showing that there is no limit to the extension, duration, and variety of being: therefore, the metaphysics opens up realms of being and application that are without limit (4) Because of its comprehensive character, the metaphysics has broad and deep application in every main sub-discipline of philosophy (logic, epistemology, ethics;) every major scientific discipline; it is at least suggestive with regard to the humanities and arts; and it has implications for the essential human endeavors. It is in a sense a completion and a rigorous yielding of a Platonic program without the postulated dualism of this world and an ideal world

The idea that no possibilities that remain eternally possible will go unrealized has been called the principle of plenitude by the philosopher Arthur O. Lovejoy, 1873-1962. The principle has been referred to and deployed in the thought of Augustine, St Anselm—in ontological arguments for the existence of God, Thomas Aquinas, and Giordano Bruno. Kant believed in the principle but not in possibility of its empirical verification

There are various motivations to the principle. Intuitively, it would seem that anything that is eternally possible should be realized; however that is not clear in itself for what can be proved in mathematical probability theory is that if the probability of a state of affairs obtaining in a finite amount of time is greater than zero then as the time allowed approaches infinity the probability of that the state will obtain approaches one. It might seem that a state of affairs that is possible should have a probability greater than zero but that depends on the meaning of possibility that is employed. Since the nature of possibility has not been clarified and since a kind of possibility has not been specified the principle is without clear meaning and therefore cannot have any proof. It clear however that not every logically possible state of affairs will occur in every context even given an infinite amount of time. In the absence of a framework for clarifying the meaning of ‘possibility’ the principle of plenitude cannot be demonstrated

A second motivation to the principle has been theological—thus St. Anselm argued that if nature ‘becomes’ as full as it can be, then the existence of God follows. The theological motive is a particular case of a cosmological motive, i.e. the motive to understand the Universe. It appears however that in the tradition the intuitive aspect of the principle and the cosmological motive have not been disentangled; this does not disprove the principle of the tradition but it does bring out a confusion that perhaps enabled some thinkers to regard the principle as true without clear proof. A second problem for the principle is that it can have consequences only on the assumption of an eternity

What is the status of the principle in the present narratives, where it is demonstrated as the principle of variety—i.e., that there is no limit to the extension, duration, and variety of being in the Universe?

First, the principle is demonstrated.  Second, its meaning is clear; it does not depend on a vague notion of possibility. Third, it yields a richer Universe than does the principle of plenitude: it says that what is Logical is realized; it demonstrates infinity of duration and extension and does not assume them. Fourth, the nature of possibility is clarified: the possible and the actual are identical… and no reference to probability is required. A framework for probability emerges from the fundamentals. The concepts of possibility are clarified and the concept deployed in the identity of the possible and the actual is clear and definite and turns out to be required to be—as essential to the theory—the weakest and most inclusive notion of possibility, i.e. that of Logical possibility

Finally, the principle of variety is not an isolated ‘piece-meal’ idea but is part of a coherent system that is of immense significance in itself—precision of meaning, scope of application—and its consequences: development of a complete metaphysics that resolves essentially the entire catalog of problems of metaphysics and an extension of the metaphysics into the study of Objects, Cosmology, Method, disciplinary studies—the system of human knowledge, and the transformation and realization of being. Specifically, in relation to the principle of variety, the meaning of ‘possibility’ is elucidated and it is not required to specify an infinite time. However, the clarification of possibility is not an isolated insight: it is part of an entire demonstrated system of meaning that includes clarification of Logic itself. This use is related to but not dependent on the extreme modal realism of David Lewis who argued that the existence of many causally isolated worlds provides many advantages and should be interpreted literally; two distinctions with the present work are, first, that here the worlds may be causally isolated for periods but not eternally and, second, that here proof and many further consequences and much elaboration is provided