Perplexing questions

Iris asked:

1. Is there a view from somewhere?

2. How many angels can dance at the tip of the needle?

3. If I have a pen right now prove to me it does not exist or it does exist.

4. If two boxers pray at night before their fight, whom will God hear?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

Very good, Iris.

1. Thomas Nagel’s book The View From Nowhere (1989) makes the case that there is such a thing as a ‘view from nowhere’. He assumes, without argument, that there is a ‘view from somewhere’. No human being occupies the view from nowhere, but we can conceive, in the abstract, what that would be like. So it would be turning the tables to raise the question whether, in fact, there IS a view from somewhere. You and I assume that there is. I have a perspective or view on the world, so do you. Those views are ‘real’ so far as you and I are concerned. Could we be wrong? how? Maybe you and I don’t really ‘exist’ as separate subjects of experience. All we are, is manifestations of IT, the singular consciousness and ultimate reality of the universe. — That would take some proving.

2. If you look at the tip of a needle under a microscope, it looks quite large. So it all seemingly depends on how small angels are. They could be tiny. Or does it? The point made in the original question (posed in the Middle Ages) is that, according to Thomistic metaphysics, unlike human beings each angel possesses a unique Aristotelian form. By contrast, you and I share the same Aristotelian form, the form of ‘human’. Objects that share the same form cannot exist in the same place at the same time. Objects that have different forms (e.g. ‘statue’ and ‘lump of bronze’) can. So unlike humans, a potentially infinite number of angels can exist in the same physical place. — If you believe in angels.

3. If your statement, ‘I have a pen right now’ is true then it follows, as a matter of logic, that the ‘pen I have right now’ exists. If it is true, as a matter of logic, that your pen exists, then it is false, as a matter of logic, that your pen does not exist. Of course, you could be lying, but that possibility isn’t relevant to the question you raised.

4. If both boxers are good Jews, or Christians, or Muslims (or, insert your favourite religion) then God hears both their prayers and decides for the best. It might be ‘for the best’ that you lose a fight, because if you had won, you would have put off your retirement from boxing, which would have led to your early death from injury. But then, of course, when you pray (If you are a good… whatever) you don’t pray to win, you pray that the outcome should be ‘for the best’. You don’t ask God for favours at the expense of someone else — do you?


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